Studio Monk makes a strong first impression and continues to grow more marvellous with each successive listen.
I have a confession: oftentimes, I judge music by its album cover. And often, my judgments are right: Did I hear what I expected on Master of Puppets when my university roommate introduced me to Metallica? And then some. Was my call on Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements correct? Peng! You do this too, don’t deny it. It’s a natural part of attraction and repulsion; a survival instinct that’s now about personal taste than preservation.
It’s because of this knee-jerk assessment that I felt I had a pretty good handle on what to expect from Studio Monk from Toronto-based producer Junia-T. With a to classic Blue Note and Verve Records, Studio Monk’s sleeve design suggests a vibe-heavy, jazz-influenced hip-hop record. And while my assumptions were correct in theory, Junia-T’s music and production work reach far beyond the confines of genre classification; Studio Monk delivers far more nuance and texture than I could ever have imagined.
With the steady patience and detailed eye of a bonsai practitioner, Junia-T meticulously shapes Studio Monk into a seamless, thirteen-song suite. Rhythm is the record’s backbone. Right from the start with “Tommy’s Intro”, Studio Monk flexes its muscles thanks to a strong drum break that blends jazz, R&B, and hip-hop elements into a definition-defying beat. It’s the kind of opening track that makes you want to hit replay and not bother with the rest of the album, but doing so would deny you Studio Monk’s treasures: its stellar collaborations and featured turns. Nate Husser and STORRY add a smoky, sultry vibe to “Try Me”, and then there’s the mellow flow of Benjamin A.D.’s delivery on “Thinking Over”, and the utterly tender sound of Jessie Reyez’s voice on the chorus of the album highlight “Sad Face Emojis”. The former is a perfectly executed ode to less-is-more, go-with-your-gut ethos; the latter is an all-out, ready-for-the-charts banger that’d be considered a star-making turn for Reyez if she wasn’t already batshit-crazy famous.
Fellow Toronto-based singer Faiza brings Studio Monk to a mellow, reggae-infused conclusion on penultimate track “Puzzles” before “Outro / The Mantra” seals the deal with a slow, sad horn sample that’s dripping with style and sophistication. As is the whole of Studio Monk. Junia-T’s fine attention to detail, his keen ear for arrangement, and perfectly-placed guest collaborators ensure Studio Monk makes a strong first impression and continues to grow more marvellous with each successive listen.