Samantha sees Toro Y Moi going back to his roots in a move that struggles to be more than just another chapter in his career.
The most common complaint about chillwave in its early days and form had little to do with the music itself. At least not only with it. The claims against that broad scope of sounds weren’t exactly baseless, though. Chillwave, the genre, the movement or, simply put, the “scene”, was -- perhaps still is -- all about fake nostalgia. The gathering of people whose only goal is to create vague, beautifully framed memories. Somehow, that was appealing to the music fan by the end of the aughts.
In the hurricane’s eye, Toro Y Moi stood out amidst the crowd: 2011’s Underneath the Pine, still Chaz Bundick’s best offering, was more than music that simply required a mood or, more broadly, a single state of mind in order to exist. Since then, however, Bundick has shifted priorities: 2013’s Anything In Return and this year’s What For? see the producer moving closer and closer to indie rock territory, often to interesting effects. Sonically rich and inviting, Toro Y Moi’s work has upped the game for a microgenre once so hollow.
Samantha, then, a mixtape (which, curiously, resembles an album a lot) consisting of Soundcloud releases and songs reminiscent of album leftovers and new projects, might help shed a new light on the producer’s past work. In many ways, it’s a step towards a different sonic route for Toro Y Moi. The release contains songs indicative of some slight, minimum experimentation (“Late”) while others feel like treading the same old territory of chillwave.
Toro Y Moi’s newest work seems more like a collection of songs rather than an album per se, which is something good for most of the time. Bundick benefits from such a carefree song construction. In that sense, the producer borrows from R&B and more soulful tunes. Amidst Ciara-sampled ("Boo Boo Mobile”) tracks he places instrumentals that fill time and space. The result is some of the best and most inventive songs in his career. Highlight “Pitch Black” (which, accordingly and not so surprisingly, features Roman Fortune in the vocals) is an interesting showcase of such enterprise.
Samantha, in spite of being a mess of an album, follows a recurring theme. Toro Y Moi’s songs narrate the downsides of love and relationships in general. Hovering above everything in here is a supreme, sometimes excessive preoccupation with mood and technique. Yet the sole existence of “Want”, Samantha’s most unusual song, is enough to mitigate such worry. Built as an ambient track, it quotes a much-mocked and infamous The Notebook scene. “What do you want?”, in the words of Ryan Gosling, in a bold, genius move, becomes a mantra.
Not every other song quite meets those high marks on Samantha, which is something that ends up exemplifying that theory from earlier: chillwave, and especially Toro Y Moi’s music in here, is all about the mood it elicits, not much about the content. Which is not the same as saying that Samantha doesn’t stand for its own merits. This is an intriguing record, one that renders us questioning its existence. The fact that it came out right after What For?, essentially an indie rock release, is telling. This is, then, Bundick looking back at his roots -- bedroom music, fake nostalgia -- before he sets out in a different direction.
Right now, that is one way of listening to this album and it is probably the most honest. It does nothing particularly big for Toro Y Moi’s catalog; if nothing else, it offers a nostalgic eye to his very particular way of making music. For the prying eye of the music fan, though, it makes more sense as a relic, simply one more chapter in his history. Taking into account the way Samantha was originally conceived, this is music to be archived and left alone as part of the stream it to which it originally belonged.