You should know about Toro Y Moi. The solo project of 24-year-old, South Carolina native Chaz Bundick, Toro Y Moi has been an internet darling for a couple of years now, dating back to his stellar full-length debut, January 2010’s Causers of This. That album, which has garnered Bundick some mainstream praise from the likes of Kanye West (“Cool ***,” West once commented on Toro Y Moi’s blog) and Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator, is considered one of the forbearers of the short-lived “chillwave” movement, which hit its peak around the summer of 2009 and into the time of Causers’ release. Led by Bundick, alongside other forbearers Neon Indian, Washed Out and Memory Tapes, this curiously-titled, quasi-genre was primarily characterized by a heavy usage of synths, sampling, and a generally hazy, 80’s-style aesthetic intertwined with the sounds of more modern electronic pop.
But a description like that is really just so vague. When you listen to one of the myriad albums that came to be described as a part of this movement (I recommend Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms or Washed Out’s Life of Leisure EP), it quickly becomes apparent that “chillwave” isn’t so much a genre as it is an elicitor of a certain set of emotions. Nostalgic emotions, in particular--of skipping class and driving around all day in your friend’s beat up car instead, of playing Super Nintendo on your cousin’s old tube TV, of awkwardly trying to make the first move on loves past--swell in a listener’s soul when listening to this music. This poignancy arises because of just how “chill” the style sounds, and through its easygoingness you are brought to a past time, a better time. For a guy as young as Toro Y Moi to tap into such universality is a true mark of his talent; hence, here we are today with Toro’s third release in less than two years, the 5-track Freaking Out EP.
With chillwave being so loose in terms of what actually defines its musical idiosyncrasies, it should come as no surprise that Toro, like many of his other “chillwavers,” has undergone a bit of a shift in his sound since his debut. Whereas Causers of This was a synth-heavy, decidedly electro-pop album, Toro’s follow-up, February’s Underneath the Pine, saw Bundick expand upon Causers’ successes, adding “real instruments” (as Bundick once termed it) into the mix. Live pianos, drums, basses, organs and the like helped see Toro take on a bigger, funkier, and more R&B-tinged sound, heard in tracks like the groovy, head-nod-inducing “New Beat,” all while maintaining the hazy spirit of his earlier work.
Naturally, Freaking Out, despite dropping only 6 months after Pine, sees Toro Y Moi continue this trend. This time, along with further solidifying his jump towards a more Prince-ly funk/R&B sound, Bundick appears to be taking some cues from the likes of his French, electro brethren, Daft Punk, incorporating a noticeable house element into his already eclectic mix of styles.
Indeed, it’s apparent right from the explosion of warbling synths that begin opener “All Alone” that Toro is making noise you can get down to. “Alone” itself sounds like the soundtrack to a drive down South Beach circa 1985; you can almost see the neon lights flashing as the track bounces through its big beat, layers of swirling electronics, and dancefloor-ready melody. The party continues into the EP’s title track, which breezes by riding a wave of perky organs, persistent, Discovery-esque keys and hip-hop drums, all while Bundick’s boyish croons echo and reverberate from ear to ear.
Things take a turn for the funky, though, by the time the instrumental “Sweet” rolls its diamond-studded disco shoes onto the floor. The biggest toe-tapper on the EP, “Sweet” particularly highlights Bundick’s adeptness at arrangement and production, as a grumbling bass quickly gives way to a subdued, Jamiroquai-style guitar riff that’s just catchy-as-all-hell. After a chorus of harmonized “oohs” and “aahs” strut through the bridge, the song erupts into a modulated synth hook that’s just huge, anchoring the sea of retro electro and fragmented vocals that quickly surround it. The track breezes by at under 3 minutes, and is a great example of the grooving goodness Toro Y Moi can achieve when he plays to his strengths, namely his ability to produce tightly constructed, yet still adventurous, tracks, and a focus on the 80’s R&B-cum-electro hooks that stick so well here.
Freaking Out is not all instrumentals, however, and it is in the lyricism of the 20-minute EP where Toro Y Moi is still at his most “chillwave.” Underneath all the assuredness of the album’s electro-funk lies the wavering voice of an awkward, young lover in constant conversation with himself. These are tracks which deal with love in its most basic forms: “All Alone” sees Bundick vaguely implore himself to “follow her tonight,” convinced that he’s “got to keep this right.” “Saturday Love,” itself an uptempo cover of a mid-80’s R&B hit by Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal, deals with fond memories of his “special” love, which he met on, you guessed it, a Saturday. No surprises here.
Everything is ambiguous: the “her” is never named, why she’s “special” is never certain, and where this love may lead is never told. In some sense, though, that’s kind of the point. What Toro Y Moi lacks in lyrical dexterity he makes up for with associability; these are songs for any lovesick guy/girl out there who just wants that one shot with the dream girl/guy. When Bundick, on bubbly closer “I Can Get Love,” assures nobody in particular that he can “get love/ it’s not just me,” anyone who’s ever felt that endless longing for companionship knows exactly what he’s talking about. “Just wait and see,” Bundick wails to end the album, and we will, because it’s worth knowing what his next move will be, where his eclectic mix of the past and present will lead us next. Plus, it’d just be the chillest thing to do.