Cold allure of Toro y Moi

Wave lengths
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  April 12, 2011

Toro y Moi
BEDROOM BEATS Bundick’s gifts lie not in persuasive charms or a bounding personality but in a savant-like musical focus.

Listening to the music of Toro y Moi, one can almost hear the years of juvenile tape swapping, the late-night DJ conversations, and even the city-kid confidence and swagger that it must take to put music this fresh — this good — on the map. But beneath the layers of synths and mellow allure is the quiet skill of reticent bedroom composer Chaz Bundick.

On the road to a gig in San Francisco with the cobbled-together band of home-town friends with whom he’s currently touring, Bundick reminisces about an insular musical childhood in South Carolina. Piano lessons, a karaoke machine, and then a cassette four-track at 15 led to the Boss digital eight-track that birthed his two acclaimed full-length Carpark releases, 2010’s Causers of This and the new Underneath the Pine.

Sporting an affect flat enough to hold his Roland JX-3P and Korg R3 keyboards, Bundick has gifts that lie not in persuasive charms or a bounding personality but in a savant-like music focus. “I would always opt out on going to eat out with family to stay home and record, or not go out with friends to record. I wasn’t trying to be anti-social.”

His tireless work ethic aside, the creator of now sounds like the second-hand funk of “Still Sound” and the SoCal chord overload of “How I Know” wasn’t exploring any musical universes beyond indie rock even as late as the early ’00s. “I wasn’t really looking back into other decades of music until I got into college. Once I started going to school, I started finding all these new bands online. I was always online finding music.”

With its gauzy keys, pale electro-drum, and sensually ambient rhythms, Causers of This amounted to Bundick’s college senior project in home recording. (He holds a recent degree in graphic design from the University of South Carolina.) Now, he’s taken an admirable turn with Underneath the Pine, challenging himself to incorporate traditional rock instruments and even daring vocal harmonies. The result far exceeds what most musicians with actual God-given cool or deep genre understanding could have come up with. The more fully imagined “band” is like a reaction to the bad vibes Bundick got from having to present himself initially as a laptop artist. (“I knew from the moment I got out there with the laptop that I was uncomfortable.”) Fortunately, he can play all the instruments, and his instincts as a songwriter are linear. He seems to work within a developing, bubbling groove rather than through the framework of a series of parts. It almost sounds as if he were remixing pre-existing songs we’ve never heard.

“I suppose I want to do this until I win a Grammy,” he says. It’s an oddly conservative goal. The starkly untimid way in which Toro y Moi’s music synthesizes all these expertly Googled elements across a range of underground micro-genres reveals a producer not engaged in any real musical dialogue. It’s as if by not being beaten up by the opinions of years of musical big brothers and ideologues, he were free to break “rules” he doesn’t know exist, and free to create whatever sounds interesting to Chaz Bundick. After all, why can’t the atmospheres and attitudes of ambient and hip-hop meet the arch-melodicism of ’60s pop and the emotiveness of shoegaze? They can if, like Bundick, you’re just an explorer on the internet synthesizing and mimicking whatever sounds happen to be appealing.

TORO Y MOI + BRAIDS + ADVENTURE | Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave, Allston | April 9 @ 8 pm | OFFICIALLY SOLD OUT | 617.779.0140

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  Topics: Music Features , Music, review, Indie Rock,  More more >
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