It’s hard to believe that Australian street performer turned global pop superstar Tones And I is just releasing her debut album now. After all, her song “Dance Monkey” has been played in what seems like every nightclub, supermarket, and kids birthday party across the globe and is now the most-streamed song by a woman in Spotify’s history. Known for her immediately recognizable gritty vocal tone and infectious basslines, the artist born Toni Watson takes her tried-and-true formula and finds ways to throw in some new and disorienting production quirks to match her continued lyrical championing of all outsiders.
Since Watson’s voice – soulful growls often cutting through a squeaky, high-pitched tone – sounds like it comes from another planet, many assumed she was pitching her voice on her biggest hits. Watson has seemingly taken that preconceived notion to the extreme – many tracks here see innovative use of voice play as she modulates both up and down and harmonizes with herself, resulting in an eerie and unnerving sound that matches the themes on display. Watson, after all, is welcoming all the misfits to the madhouse, adding an appropriately haunting twinge to her typically bubblegum soundscapes – complete with organs, distorted screams, and slamming doors. Her youthful vocals only make the horror elements more surprising and captivating, combined with marching-band drum breaks and music boxes evoking a demonic merry-go-round.
In the album’s most powerful moments, Watson addresses the backlash she received from those who weren’t quite ready for her brand of weirdness. She writes about the therapeutic nature of creation and happily lists her many successes in defiance. To the underdogs – embrace Watson as your leader.
Best Track: “Child’s Play”