Toro Y Moi revitalizes old songs of his and ends up with one of the best live albums this year.
Let’s face it: the music industry is in flux.
Consider the fact that the highest selling records of all time are still Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and AC/DC’s Back In Black, all albums that are over 30 years old. With the advent of the Internet and its ability to both stream and pirate music, most artists can no longer expect as much profit from album sales as their predecessors, thereby forcing most acts to make their money from extensive touring. While some would argue that this new financial model for record labels and musicians is a bad thing, it also opens up a new opportunity for musicians and fans alike, namely the concept of the live album. And Toro Y Moi’s live album, Live From Trona, is the perfect example of this.
It is an irony with no bounds that one of the best live albums of the year happens to be not from a thumping rock band or a winding orchestral entourage, but from a man who crafts dreamy chillwave in a professional studio. As if that were not enough, Live From Trona also just so happens to be Toro Y Moi’s best work to date, hands down.
For a diehard fan of Toro, this may sound sacrilegious, especially considering the fact that he has a solid discography under his belt. However, everything that made his previous efforts great returns on this latest album, and the few failings that the previous albums had are nonexistent here. Across the entirety of Live From Trona, Toro builds on songs from his last three albums, adding punchier guitars and more energy to tracks that were originally only good to vibe out to.
“Buffalo” and “Ratcliff” are the best example of this, simply for the fact that Bradley Bundick’s textured, rough-around-the-edges performances exchange the smooth vintage of the old studio versions for more character, personality, and edge than ever before. In their previous form, they were great, but slightly too perfect; now, they’re psychedelic pop rock beasts, high octane and firing at all cylinders. Simply put, it is the difference between sterilized perfection and personable imperfection.
However, there is one element of Live From Trona that’s perfect in the best way possible and it is the flow and cohesion of the album. “Divina” serves as a gorgeous instrumental opener that gives way to the rollicking efforts of tracks like “What You Want”, the aforementioned “Buffalo”, and “Still Sound”. After “JBS”, though, Toro takes things down a notch, shifting his focus from getting the audience’s interest to maintaining it. “Lilly”, “High Living” and “Grown Up Calls” are more layered and textured affairs than the songs preceding them, but they still create intrigue through colorful melodies and psychedelic musical solos. And it would be simply impossible to find a better song than “Yeah Right” to close it all out.
As to be expected, a majority of the songs on Live From Trona come from Toro Y Moi’s 2015 release What For?, but it remains a shame that he did not try out more of his older material, since “Still Sound”, “Divina”, “High Living”, and “Say That” are some of the best songs on the entire record. Also, more original or otherwise unreleased tracks would have been a nice touch. The only one here, “JBS” featuring The Mattson 2, went in a different musical direction than the rest of the songs, and that risk paid off big time. Live From Trona is a safe Toro Y Moi album, which is fine; it just would have been a bit more fulfilling had he taken a few more left turns along the way.
Now, Live From Trona is not the first great live album in existence. For all of its character, it still doesn’t reach the rebellious heights of At Folsom Prison, nor does it have the sharp and poignant lyricism of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York. Instead, Toro Y Moi simply built on previous songs, giving them more oomph and meaning in a live setting. Ultimately, it is precisely that unbridled, distinct contextualization that makes any great live album worth listening to, and allows Toro Y Moi to reach higher than ever before.