Jonti: Tokorats

Perenially on the cusp of greatness. Is this the year for Jonti's bizarre, joyous, fusion brew?

Tokorats is a really good name for Jonti’s new record. A tokorat is a mirror-creature: some kind of ghostly, luminous being that is a reflection of the person looking at it, but a weird, warping, mutating one that includes all that person can be, all at once. Given Jonti’s previous full-length ambitions (2011’s Twirligig and 2013’s Sine & Moon) I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need any encouragement to put all he is into his music like some giant hallucinogenic journey: that’s just his natural inclination.

As a result it can be pretty hard to even pin down what it is he does. Is it noodly, avant-garde downtempo? Is it dreamy ‘60’s folk-pop music? No wait, it’s lush, ‘70’s soul with flashes of disco or, or what? As you might guess, he’s an astute observer of other people’s music and you can hear all his acknowledged, competing influences at work: the dreamy art-pop of Stereolab, the mannered, experimental hip hop of Madlib and the gentle euphoria of both The Avalanches and The Beach Boys locked here in a joyous embrace. There’s also a bunch of other things spilling in together  that Jonti probably never even dreamed of when he was making Tokorats, but which nonetheless are flying around in this kaleidoscopic trip, because the guy has vacuumed up so much of the last fifty years of music: Bee GeesSun RaDelfonics and so on. It’s a pretty impressive stable of sounds for sure, but, to say it again: Jonti’s problem has never been a lack of knowledge or raw musical skill.

Indeed there are few other people who work like him. Having said that if I had to pick just one other artist in the world that is on a trajectory anything like Jonti right now, it’d be Bibio: that found-sound collagist turned retro-electronic-pop crooner. Both of them have that insatiable bowerbird appetite for yesterday’s tunes, but most of all, it’s those whispery, layered vocals, which are less of a feature in the music Bibio’s been releasing lately, but in the sea of features on offer are still the most enduring element of Tokorats. They come out in a flow like a vocal waterfall and if it’s a little hard to pick out the detail, they unfailingly communicate the real joy of the “five year spiritual journey” Jonti says he’s been on. Seriously, it feels like every day he gets out of bed and is genuinely excited at what’s going to happen next; I’m quite jealous.

As usual Jonti’s talent, vision and that immaculate joy have certainly convinced the industry: the record is coming out on the perennially stylish Stones Throw in the US and through dance doyens Future Classic here in Australia. The enthusiasm extends to the guestlist, a non-exhaustive reading of which includes: Gotye, Kirin J Callinan, Moses Macrae, Jo Ling, Vanessa Tammetta, Tess Nicolaou, Hodgy, and Sampa The Great. Most of their efforts are a bit lost in the aural jungle, but the obvious ones -the raps from Sampa and Hodgy- don’t bond very well with the anaesthetising flow of Jonti’s happy pop. It’s a bit strange considering how much the guy manages to subsume in his sound, but they’re like jagged hiphop islands in his otherwise smooth stream.

There are some lovely moments on Tokorats, like the expansive Sleeping And Falling. One of my enduring problems with Jonti has been, he’s so busy doing things in music, none of his ideas are given time to breathe. In this shopping bag of minute-and-a-half fragments he actually devotes a full six minutes to let the funky flourishes work themselves out. Work they do, there are no more incandescent highs on this record, Jonti’s perpetual joy never more effectively communicated.

I wonder what would happen if, in a year and a half, someone came along and said, “Jonti, take all of the musical ideas you’ve been working on and force yourself to choose only one in every six. Now take those and give each one it’s own, five minute song.” I think that might finally let Jonti -always on the edge of greatness- pass on that joy of his to everyone else.

- Chris Cobcroft.

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Album Details

Album Title: Tokorats
Artist: Jonti
Record Label: (Future Classic / Stones Throw)