Toro y Moi
June 2009. Apple debuts the iPhone 3GS. One of Pablo Picasso’s original sketch notebooks (worth several million euro) vanishes from Musee Picasso in Paris. Every television station in the country completes the federally mandated conversion from analog to digital. Coincidentally, a young college graduate from down south was undergoing a similar transition — raw tracings of indie yesteryear to next summer’s next big thing.
Chillwave. It’s either a rebranding of glo-fi or Hipster Runoff’s one lasting contribution to our cultural lexicon (with the exception of BB). Whatever you care to call it, Chazwick Bundick is permanently or better yet inadvertently touted as one of its bedroom pioneers. After last fall’s Freaking Out EP left many a Toro y Moi fan “freaking” out from its diametrical acceptance of a cleaner techno sound, a little scuzzy lo-fi blast from the past is just what the purists ordered.
Don’t expect anything approaching polish on this compilation. Prime example: track numero quattro “Dead Pontoon.” I haven’t heard anything this grungy since Malkmus was awkwardly shaking Leno’s hand after ripping through “Cut Your Hair.” This may be a result of insufficient recording equipment, allowing the distortion and discordant flares to resonate at Slint or Guided by Voices level. Let’s just say if Sub Pop got a hold of this demo cassette circa 1988, they would’ve scrounged up every last cent they could to hook him up with a murky loft close by.
Obviously not everything on here is as atavistic as I make it sound. Opening indie pop dandy “Best Around” displays “chill” tendencies but is ultimately a bass-driven shoegazer as dreamy as it is ambient, not nearly as expansive as his later forays. Some spliced loops of generic ‘60s film footage and Napoleon Dynamite synthesized sheen burst through disco dancer “Take The L To Leave.” Even the predictably measured sugar highs of “Girl Problems” are sweetened toward the coda when floating open fifths are overtaken by congas and funk guitar straight from ‘78.
I’d probably dig Beach House a lot more if they could build anticipatory rapture as deftly as it’s done on “Ektelon.” Doubt it has anything to do with racquetball as the title insists. Like most of Bundick’s work, its tone conjures up carefree images of a warm summer day: “Summer’s coming back and I wanna take you to the river/We’ve got our river rafts and tie tubes to keep the surf on top/And we float/And we float/And we float down stream.” Beneath it all is a decelerated four-chord dive that is set free by a well timed snare and octaves that blend seamlessly with every transition.
Chaz gives us a glimpse of his Les Sans side on the latter half of the album. It’s by no means full fledged mashup, but “Sad Sams” is teeming with a lo-fi breakbeat more ‘80s Italo than anything else. “Talamak”, which was actually on 2010’s breakthrough Causers of This, is reminiscent of J Dilla or Oh No rocking a muffled quasi-galactic bass in the trunk.
“Warm Frames” goes down just as smooth as lemonade afternoon delight. Soothing. Mesmerizing. A tonic palsy suitable for the afterlife, whatever that may be. Feels fitting that a taste of Chaz’s early rumblings ends on a poignant note. “New Loved Ones” is simply low-key acoustic strumming and hollow echoes Robin Pecknold would die for. Initially the chorus is laced over with quiet crooning. Ambivalence toward religion gradually creeps in: “Fine, maybe it’s a lie/And now that I can see/And now I believe.” His register climbs as high and gentle as blue sky when that same chorus becomes:”Mother Mary pray for me/Cuz I know now what I’ve done/I can feel your touch/At times when I need you I feel like I am leaving from my eyes/And I cry save me Jesus Christ.” Feeling righteous, glowing and effervescent in what was the first month of Bundick’s “real world” must have momentarily lightened the recessionary gloom that we’re still trying to shed three years later.
This album review is sponsored by Fox Searchlight's 'Sound of My Voice', in theaters April 27.