California Sounds: New music from Dawes, Beck and Tokimonsta, and DJ Quik & Problem will snag your ears

Jennifer Lee, who produces music as Tokimonsta.
(Nikko Lamere)

Wanted: a Google map that pinpoints the locations of lyrics across Southern California. Thee Midniters celebrated Whittier Boulevard in their song of the same name. Tom Waits switched up the intersection of Hollywood and Vine to create his great ode to the central city, “Heart Attack and Vine.” Ariel Pink did something similar for “Beverly Kills.”

The songs below don’t all offer map points — Beck doesn’t identify the front yard in “Wow” where he’s “standing on the lawn doin’ jiu jitsu” or on which road he spied a “girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu” -- but each setting nonetheless celebrates a uniquely California vibe.

Beck, “Wow (Tokimonsta Remix)” (Fonograf/Capitol). Two Southern California natives team up on the new remix of Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Beck’s newest single. Torrance-born Jennifer Lee, whose stage name is Tokimonsta, re-imagines the synth-funk track in an authorized remix that focuses on a pretty piano melody embedded but barely audible in the original.

Tokimonsta’s rise from underground clubs has been as graceful as her “Wow” remix. Over the last half-decade, she’s moved from early work on the respected Brainfeeder imprint and guest spots at the Low End Theory to international EDM festivals and remixer to the stars. In addition to “Wow,” the artist has a new EP of “Fovere” remixes arriving at the end of October. 


And Beck’s “Wow”? The track, a huge departure from his melancholy Grammy-winning album “Morning Phase,” is further snagging ears after the artist licensed the original version for a new series of TV ads for Acura cars. The track is the second single to be released from Beck’s forthcoming 13th album. No release date has been set, but the artist has described the record as much more upbeat than “Morning Phase.” 

Dawes, “As If by Design” (Hub). The final song on the Los Angeles rock band’s  surprising fifth album, which has the sunshiny title “We’re All Gonna Die,” features an arrangement dotted with horns, as if the band recorded it at Mariachi Plaza and some players stopped to join in.

The band has been known for its folk-tinged rock — its last album was produced in Nashville by longtime Gillian Welch collaborator David Rawlings — but on its new album, the group got in the studio with Grammy-nominated Los Angeles producer Blake Mills, who used to be in a band with Dawes’ primary singer and songwriter, Taylor Goldsmith.


Since then, Mills has become an in-demand session guitarist and producer who has worked with dozens of artists, including the Alabama Shakes, Fiona Apple, Sky Ferreira and  Sara Watkins. Mills’ work is typified by a love of instrumental surprise. As a result, “We’re All Gonna Die” is barely a folk rock record. It’s rich with sonic flourishes that steer songs in odd directions.

“As If by Design” caps the album with both grace and lyricism as Goldsmith focuses on the wonders of the natural world. 

Goldsmith has fun with metaphors, and one verse in particular hits a wonderfully left-field note: “The moon beamed like a coach from junior high school/ When players hacked their way through each opposing team,” Goldsmith sings as a looping guitar melody adds momentum. “And the brighter it was shining/ Felt like the wider he was smiling/ On a season that he loved too much to leave.” 

DJ Quik & Problem, “Rosecrans” EP (Diamond Lane). The EP came out a few months ago without much fanfare. That’s just wrong, considering that few Southern California musicians of the last few decades have produced as consistent a body of Los Angeles-centric work over as long a period as Quik.

The artist, who was born David Blake, came up in Compton alongside label-mates N.W.A — he signed to Profile in 1990 —  and issued his influential debut, “Quik Is the Name,” in 1991. Since then, he has released nearly a dozen albums, EPs and mixtapes, many of which are set in the territory south of the 10 freeway. (Warning: The clip below contains cussing and is not safe for work.)

Quik’s new “Rosecrans” EP is a collaboration with the Compton rapper Problem, and is named after the same South L.A. artery that artists including Kendrick Lamar, the Game, YG, 2Pac and Dr. Dre have made famous. The whole EP lives in the region. Across six tracks, which feature enough bawdy cussing to make Donald Trump blush, the pair celebrate Rosecrans as a kind of yellow brick road.  


On “Straight to the City With It,” Quik and Problem name-check the eastbound 105 as if it’s paved with diamonds. During the title track, guest rapper the Game offers a specific route to his destination — from the 110 south to Rosecrans Avenue to Wilmington Avenue to Brazil Street. 

On the nearly 10-minute track “A New Nite/Rosecrans Grove,” Quik too places himself at a particular map-point. “Now this the kind of beat I make when I’m just dippin'/ The bassline sound like my fingers set trippin'/ On what better spot, the El Segundo and Central?/ This the intersection that made me make instrumentals.” 

There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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