Update: Previously we mistakenly reported that KCRW would broadcast the live session on Friday, March 27th. The broadcast of this show will be on Friday, April 3rd.
I felt terribly underdressed at KCRW’s private Toro y Moi show. It was the mini flatbread crackers that did it. There were elegant trays of them, three different flavors: Cheddar & Bacon, Parmesan & Oregano, and another one that I can’t spell but involved flakey seasoning. They were all delicious. But even as I reached for them they seemed to be thinking, ‘What, seriously? You came in a purple V-neck and a hoodie?’
I had never been to the Apogee studio before. It is not the Echo. It is a shimmering private room that fits about 100 people. The sound system is pristine, the guests wear suits, wine and artisanal cocktails are plenty and KCRW has used the space for intimate shows with greats like Beck, Chromeo, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Ryan Adams. I should have done my research.
So there I was, munching on hand-crafted kettle corn and drinking something called a Tipsy-Poppy waiting for Toro y Moi to start.
I’ve been a fan of Chaz Bundick’s since ‘Low Shoulder’ queued up on my Pandora station at my shitty office job five years ago. I didn’t get much done that day. The chillwave genre was only sort of starting to become a thing. The economy was shit and everyone was broke and this music felt fitting. It sounded like someone working with whatever they had. Cheap programs on cheap computers with bad download speeds but still a distinct ear for hooks and melodies. Jon Pareles of the NY Times put it best, “It’s recession-era music: low-budget and danceable.”
Of course, Bundick was quick to dispel the notion that he was leading, or even a part of, the chillwave genre. But, regardless of his intentions, he became the crowned king of the form. Of all the artists lumped together under the Glo-Fi banner, Toro y Moi was the most consistent and exciting. He didn’t stick with the faded out vocals, or the glossy sun-braised synths, he was constantly trying new things and he wasn’t afraid to admit to his pop ambitions. “I like that kind of music,” he told Pitchfork in 2012, “big studio sounding synths and auto-tune.”
His newest singles hint at a new transition. He’s ditched the keyboard for the guitar. Whereas his past music seemed built out of synths, now he is seeing what it’s like to start with the six-string.
When Toro y Moi made their way on stage there was a respectful and classy decibel of applause. “We’re playing the whole new record tonight,” Bundick said, “hope you like it.” I, for one, was just glad that Bundick was dressed as casually as I was; an off black t-shirt with a faded green chest pocket. I was saved.
The music was strong. It was the first time I had seen Bundick play the guitar. He didn’t thrash physically, I don’t think he could, but he certainly played with purpose. Some tracks, like the single “Empty Nesters” sports a riff that seems more apropos on a Tame Impala recording, but Chaz fits it into his aesthetic. I never thought I would point out a guitar solo on a Toro y Moi record, but “Spell It Out” quickly converts skeptics. There is still the deep funk bass that we’ve come to expect from someone who can move a track like “Still Sound” with little less than vocals and a quick low-line.
After five tracks, Bundick sat with KCRW’s Jason Bentley for a short interview. Mr. Bentley looked very dapper and I couldn’t help but notice, in their juxtaposition, the stark contrast of venue attire and sonic attire. Toro y Moi’s music doesn’t require you to wear a vest, but this gorgeous space certainly does. Then again, I was probably just trying to console my shlumpy self.
They talked about South by Southwest and Bundick’s previous album Anything in Return. “I had just moved to LA [when that record was recorded],” Chaz said, “It just felt like the West Coast.” He also remarked that, “this is my first time playing guitar in front of anyone in, like, six years.”
Bentley also mentioned Chaz’s side project Les Sins, “We were djing in Palm Springs,” he reminisced, “and you said, ‘I want to play you the new Les Sins record,’ and I said, ‘sure, why not,’ but you insisted that we had to get high first! I remember I said, ‘Chaz you know I don’t… okay fine.” Any thread of vested swank disintegrated right then; the place erupted in laughter.
The interview wrapped up and we heard the back half of What For?. I would try to describe it, but you can hear it for yourself. KCRW will be broadcasting the session on Morning Becomes Eclectic on Friday April 3rd. Not sure if they’ll broadcast the Palm Springs anecdote, but I hope you’re wearing sweatpants when you hear it.
Words: Ziv Biton
Photography: Jeremiah Garcia / KCRW
Stream Toro Y Moi’s new song “Run Baby Run”: