Eric is in Hawaii – eating exotic foods, surfing, laughing at us peons – but he was kind enough to leave me with two posts while he’s away. Here’s the first.
Toro y Moi played Crescent Ballroom on Jan. 30, for the second time in a year (bookended by Geographer at Rhythm Room the day before and Pinback at Crescent the day after, no less). I’m not sure what musical lottery we won here in Phoenix that week, but I wasn’t about to question it. His 2012 show, despite putting me in full geezer mode with the overwhelming underage section, was one of the best-sounding shows I went to all year.
Not that it’s the reason I like him so much, but it doesn’t hurt that Chazwick Bundick is also a fellow South Carolinian. I lived in “South Cackalacky” from when I was just a wee lad of 5 years old until just before my sophomore year of high school, when my dad’s job moved us to Illinois. When your home state’s musical heroes pretty much begin and end with Hootie and the Blowfish and Marshall Tucker Band, you can begin to understand how rarely I’m given the privelege of SC artists about which to get excited.
After seeing Toro y Moi this time, I found myself looking back at a short but already impressive catalogue and how it’s developed over the years. Through these past few years, Chaz Bundick has consistently explored new musical landscapes with each new album. On 2009’s Causers of This, Toro y Moi was a one-man band with a synthesyzer and mixing equipment. He was quickly lumped in with other “bedroom” recording artists such as Washed Out and Neon Indian and firmly inserted into a brand new, conventient square box of a subgenre called chillwave, the basic idea being dreamy pop as heard through a musical Instagram filter of sorts. Tracks like “Blessa” and “Talamak” had bloggers and critics abuzz, “Blessa” being of particular note for its oft-discussed, resonant line, “I found a job I do it fine/Not what I want but still I try” as being something of a mantra for young people coming to terms with a take-what-you-can-get post-college reality check in 2009.
The next iteration of TyM expanded Bundick’s reach beyond that of a solo project. He had already channeled his more electronic tendencies into his side project, Les Sins, which produced a double-sided single, “Lina,” in 2010. This was an intriguing, brief tease along the way to what I consider an essential album, his official sophomore release, 2011’s Underneath the Pine. While Pine‘s production is still largely rooted in the dreamy, spacey waves of that got him noticed with Causers, it also displayed an overtly dancier, funkier side with tracks like “Still Sound” and “New Beat.” Around the time of the release of the album, I got to see my first Toro y Moi show. The first chance was as an opener, circa-Causers of This, for the Ruby Suns at Rhythm Room, something I kicked myself for missing a hundred times over.
I’m not sure if I had been misinformed or just imagined it, but my understanding of Toro live shows pre-Pine involved Chaz, a microphone and DJ equipment. But when I saw them headline the South by Stateside showcase (including other soon-to-break-out artists Foster the People and Geographer) at the Sail Inn in March 2011, there was ol’ Chazzy on keyboard and vocals, a guitarist, a drummer and bassist. Toro y Moi had graduated to being a “band” in more traditional sense of the word. I wasn’t expecting it, and the live show admittedly felt distinctly different than the album, almost like a slightly abstract interpretation of it. All of this is not to say that it was in any way amateurish or took anything away from the sound of what’s become one of my favorite albums – it just felt like two very different animals, the live show and the album. I definitely walked away impressed and wanting more.
What’s been really consistent, though, each time I’ve seen a Toro show has been Chaz Bundick’s stage presence. For such a seemingly soft-spoken, intellectual, sheepish teddy bear of a guy, he plays with a confidence and swagger beyond his years and on-the-surface personality. The effortlessness with which he plays is really impressive to me, like I’m watching that kid destroy the Dance Dance Revolution game in the lobby of the movie theater, all the while with an “ain’t no thang” half-smirk on his face.
I saw them next in August 2011 at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, underneath a canopy of shady trees with a cold beer in my hand. By that point, having already worn out Pine as a soundtrack to almost everything in my life, this was to be one of my favorite shows. That spring and summer, and well after, I played the album pretty much everywhere. The CD was always in the car and on my iPod when walking, hiking or biking. I really enjoyed seeing the world through the lens of that particular album, and it’s just something I’ve never gotten tired of.
With January’s release of Anything in Return, Toro has ventured into some newfound sauve territory. The first two singles, “So Many Details” and “Say That,” are slow and sexy, with catchy hooks and quite a bit more bass thump than previous fare, and “Rose Quartz” exudes a healthy amount of swagger. “High Living” is similarly stretched out, allowing Bundick plenty of space to work into some deep Courvoisier-in-hand grooves.
I don’t want to say he’s “grown up” at this point (he’s still only 26, after all), and he seemed pretty self-possessed in his early 20s, but it seems that he’s hit a more adult stride with this new work. He recently moved away from home to live with his girlfriend in Berkeley, which doesn’t seem coincidental for me. As someone who’s had that moment where you decide that moving across the country is something that you are definitely all of a sudden going to go ahead and go through with, even though you’re leaving everything you know behind and have no idea what what this new place will bring, I can attest that it can be hard to look at yourself as a kid afterward.
I knew from the first listen, this album has a lot of replay potential for me, just like everything else I’ve heard from him, and I’m excited to see what I find as I peel back the layers. Hearing the new stuff after only maybe two or three times prior to the show, it wasn’t as familiar going in as I’d like for one of my favorite bands, but that happens. Although I couldn’t “feeeeel” it as much, I also have a gut reaction that Anything in Return will usher in new era for him and broaden the fan base further. Although I have a pretty personal relationship with the music, I’m happy about that. I recommend it to just about everybody and genuinely want more people to experience it.
I also feel like the live show is only becoming more integrated as Chaz goes along and adds more layers. The crowd was dancing and smiling throughout. Yeah, I was mouthing the words to about 75 percent of the songs. So what? I’m not exaggerating when I say that people were freaking out about some Toro, you guys. Deafening cheers and chants demanded an encore, and there was a palpable ecstatic buzz that filtered out into the lounge area post-show. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next time I see them.