Moving from genre to genre, Toro Y Moi creates style that's hard to label

by Otis R. Taylor Jr.

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

21 February 2011



“I Will Talk to You,” the Toro Y Moi tour-only song, begins with a thick, punchy bass line that is accented by waterfall keys perhaps lifted from one of Hall & Oates’ greatest hits. A piano bass line intercepts the groove, causing the song to switch tempo, mood.

Columbia native Chaz Bundick, who records as Toro Y Moi, has become appreciated for his wonderful way with melody and tone. Bundick’s music has been labeled electro-pop, chillwave, new-R&B and a number of other subgenres.

It’s never been called hip-hop, though. But on “I Will Talk to You,” Bundick, as if he’s giving in to the groove reminiscent of the late head-nodding producer J Dilla, shows his hand in a way never heard before.

“Unh,” he says before the Broadcast-like melody kicks in.

Bundick, who on Tuesday will release “Underneath the Pine,” his second album in just over a year, is an experimentalist. The debut album, “Causers of This,” was a melancholy discourse of a breakup that was rendered beautiful through electronic programming. On “Underneath the Pine,” Bundick uses instruments, creating a sound that leans on ‘80s R&B and pop.

And hip-hop.

“Unh,” for those who follow the genre, is akin to saying “Yo.” It’s a device rappers use to catch a beat, alerting the listener — and song — that their rhyme is about to begin. Or it can be a way to hesitate, as if giving the listener a chance to absorb what was just said. Unh also signifies confidence, and there isn’t a rapper who uses it more than Drake, who switches meter and verse topics with the utterance.

“It was sort of a reference to Drake,” said Bundick, who acknowledged he’d like to work with the budding hip-hop star. “I kept it in the recording.”

Toro Y Moi isn’t on Drake’s $100,000-per show level. It’s not exactly something Bundick is seeking, but he’s definitely getting Drake-like attention, as far as independent music chroniclers are concerned. Every release — whether it’s a remix of another band or a song from one of his side projects such as Les Sins — is blogged about.

Last week, Bundick was Jake Fogelnest’s co-host in the mornings on Sirius XMU. “Underneath the Pine” was streamed on Urban Outfitters’ website. And after what some felt was a Best New Music snub by Pitchfork for “Causers of This,” the influential website has provided more PR for the new record than Bundick’s label, Carpark Records.

The bigger he gets, the more Bundick thinks about home and how simple life used to be. “Underneath the Pine,” he said, is about his family.

“It’s about being closer to my family,” he continued. “It was sort of influenced and inspired by being on tour so much. It’s definitely about being a better friend and better person.”

As he sat sipping coffee at Columbia’s Gourmet Shop on a recent rainy Friday morning, Bundick relished the tranquility of being off the road.

“It’s weird to be at this level and have a really easygoing public image at home,” he said. “When I’m here, it’s totally normal. And then when I leave, it’s photos and autographs.”

It can be weird at home sometimes, though.

“Because now at shows I see people I don’t know,” said Bundick who hasn’t played in Columbia since June. “I feel like it’s not my hometown anymore.”

Bundick’s music is without a genre home, particularly since he’s touring with a live band that includes Patrick Jeffords (bass), Jordan Blackmon (guitar) and Andy Woodward (drums). Certain blogs still want to label Toro’s music as chillwave, a genre marked by synths, loops and filtered vocals.

“I think there’s two types of music fans: people that are into it for the hipness of it and people that are into good music in general,” Bundick said.

Not that he cares what Toro Y Moi is labeled. Bundick, who was known around here for giving out music after he recorded something new, just wants to keep making music. And giving it away. Ah, the benefits of indie labels.

“Being on a smaller label, it gives an artist of my status, which isn’t that big, the ability to do whatever I want,” he said. “I’m sure if I was on a major label, they would not be very keen to me giving out free music.”

(Though “Underneath the Pine” is a retail album, Bundick was sure it was going leak, thus giving fans an opportunity to download it free. In fact, the day of our interview, the album was posted on torrent sites.)

“Underneath the Pine” was finished in September, and since then he’s recorded a number of songs, some leaning, Bundick said, toward an urban sound. He’s already there, actually.

“Still Sound,” the first single off the album with its slick dance beat, is being featured in a Black History Month public service announcement on BET.

“I feel like I don’t have many opportunities, because I’m jumping into so many genres, to appeal to the black audience,” Bundick said. “This record I feel is more connected to soul and R&B.”

And hip-hop.


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