The music of Chazwick Bundick – who tonight of course performs under the guise of Toro Y Moi at what is a fairly heavily anticipated, and indeed long since sold out London return – is about as well suited to this snowy predicament in which we for the moment find ourselves as is our much lambasted, though somehow still ever so slightly beloved National Rail network. It is unmistakably, and thereby unquestionably estival to the point whereby it’d surely shrivel at the very thought of each and every decimalised centigrade anywhere below twenty or so, in the same way that Bundick himself I’d reckon would wither at the mere idea of having to listen to absolutely anything taken from the Fueled By Ramen back catalogue.
Bundick is a blog don of sorts; a hipster prince, and his carefully curated batch of authentic hype tracks (Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark), Getting There feat. Niki Randa, etcetera) does nothing to negate such a seemingly meticulously cultivated impression. Already fashionably late, each is increasingly punctuated with an albeit genial unrest, as the clock fizzles out into overtime. He’s playin’ us as Jeru the Damaja once did himself, as Melody Day begins to ring around. Dan Snaith himself is stood side of stage, flanked by Gilles Peterson, and Caribou guitarist Ryan Smith, and a gaggle of excitable liggers. Despite still maintaining that uptight professorial air, he gazes on unperturbed, if seemingly more than a little discomfited by this sonorous airing of the Andorra track.
Though it’s material from Anything In Return – Bundick’s third Toro Y Moi full-length which is to experience its US release on today, of all days – that we’re here congregated to revel in, and hopefully with that revere a little more than we could conceivably do on record. A patchwork job not without its imperfections (scads of dropped stitches, primarily) it was something of a self-misrepresentation, and with that a rather wretchedly entitled work at that, as what it did represent was arguably one of his less rewarding efforts to date. Nonetheless as is his every endeavour, that it had been veneered in some of the most immaculate production techniques of recent times ensured that, at its best, it gleamed with a mesmeric synth-pop shine, the like of which we’re rarely enlightened by. One such scintillant was, and so too tonight is Rose Quartz – a peppy daub of irrepressible ebullience, and an urbane reintroduction to Bundick’s in many respects intriguing live portrayal. Where at points it could be said to sound that tad flat on record, within this expansive open-plan setting it sounds full and irrefutably ready for the floor. The apparently insurmountable obstacle now is that the floor appears anything but ready…
There’s an abundance of alibi as to why we’re quite so reluctant: it’ll take more than just the one disco fire lighter to thaw out feet this frostbitten; it’s been a manic January Tuesday made that little bit more insufferable by the adverse weather conditions; it’s debatable as to whether Bundick could ever be deemed a natural showman of any sort, and in plumping for much of his new LP there’s a not insubstantial possibility of alienating the Shoreditch bloggerati. Though excuses notwithstanding, this initial apathy is in many respects astounding. I mean even though he may not be the most inspiring of performers (his blurb is calm and composed as ever, if never particularly engaging), that it should suddenly all sound that bit more alive ought suffice. Patently, that ain’t so.
“So many people here! Awkward!” Chaz gauchely mews before a bluish mire of plasma – his reflection rippling in the screens of a few hundred smartphones, as the sultry house strains of Say That are ratcheted up to an unprecedentedly rambunctious degree. As with all funk/ soul brothers, the live element is as paramount a component as any and again, whilst Bundick lacks that intuitive performance trait, perhaps unexpectedly this one and others speak elaborate, self-congratulatory wonders all for themselves: the still suave cosmopolitan beach bar crossover atmospheres of a now aged New Beat, or that honeyed Beach Boys melodiousness in which How I Know was once smeared. The latter – a distant scion of Pet Sounds, as indeed is Melody Day – gets Snaith’s quite literal nod of approval, as he bobs along placidly beyond lenses thick to the point of the impenetrably opaque to its perky ba-da-dah’s and aah’s. Though significantly, its giddy lyrics concern the inquisitive: “Are you having fun?”, Bundick rhetorically quizzes. The response is inconclusive at best, before he inverts the interrogation: “Am I having fun?” Again, there’s an uncertainty to his tone, and that in spite of the fizzy animation innately located within the music itself.
“Get in there, son!” somebody then obsequiously yodels from somewhere or other.
It’s an odd interjection, not least as it borders on the boorish and it consequently prompts the question Bundick would maybe be least inclined to have posed: has the Toro Y Moi project now expanded out into a more all-encompassing, and more easily permeated realm? Certainly Studies – irrespective of its timorous articulation of those amorous uncertainties to torment every other adolescent – tonight assumes a cocksure strut that, aside from its squiggly guitar solo, clod hops to that same clumpy stomp as the monotonously laddish dross of the ruinous macho juggernaut known only as Kasabian. Chaz’ bassist Patrick Jeffords even sports facial hair seemingly inspired by the East Midlands, and it’s that same member who imbues the gently smug I Can Get Love with the tectonic bass lines of Moloko’s I Am Not A Doctor. It’s another, however, who thwarts Harm In Change at a first time of asking: “I wanna start over. We’re all humans – it’s OK.” Now, as virtuosic as Bundick may be, his pragmatism doesn’t resound with that same studious intent as it would from, say, Snaith and despite avowing to wanting to “play it right for you guys”, the false start kills it in that most pejorative of respects. Of course he’s a perfectionist – we wouldn’t have him any other way – although one of the myriad joys of the live arena stems from that ineluctable inability to smudge out any lingering imperfections with the hurried click of a scurrying mouse. By going against this, it’s as though Bundick inadvertently proffers the impression that he’d be happier in a more controlled environment – or rather one over which his power is irrefutably omnipotent.
There’s no denying the boy’s ability, and whilst his production skills and perfectionist diligence can overshadow certain songs on his hyperactively released LPs, he’s remarkably able to adroitly reproduce the moods, sounds, and synthetics of these collections in a live staging. At one point someone Shazams the Oracular Spectacular flump of Still Sound – the one to at long last induce some movement among us – and given its recital of the highest fidelity, the track ID can, quite unbelievably, be correctly ascertained. And that with the aid of one scarcely employed sampler and, more significantly, no laptops whatsoever.
He’s a prodigious talent, that much is manifest – an amalgam of the geeky self-assurance of Will Smith circa ’92 and the gawkiness of Alexis Taylor gone bawler. The schoolyard is now all but a nostalgia-drenched reminiscence lodged somewhere deep in my brain’s cache memory, but I’m still relieved not to have had Bundick to contend with for the attentions of my every contemporary. I could never learn to compete with lines like “never learnt to study much but you” now, could I? Nor could I even fathom lathering them over refined alt. pop to make Metronomy collectively tremble at the patella.
Thus he is the undiluted incarnation of geek chic who, when not crooning reverb-doused dulcet utterances nor sipping tea from a thermos, spurts breath spray down his agape gob. And however insubstantial this may initially seem, it somehow feels indicative of tonight’s show: it’s that little bit too sterile. Or pristine, rather: his shirt is as crisp as freshly unleashed Kettle Chips; his latest work as superficially unblemished as Coca-Cola’s credit rating; his demeanour sober as the factory of said multinational. And as such, perhaps he was never meant for these sorts of shows. (His inability to deal with the odd globules of sweat smeared across his brow come the closing moments intimate as much.)
Certainly his smoothing over of the disparate styles addressed across his exponentially expanding discography, within the context of tonight, is again laudable as he achieves a greater sense of stylistic cohesion live, although it’s the substance itself – both musically, and indeed personally – which is now somehow questionable. Which makes the setting of tonight’s show in Shoreditch that bit more apt: there’s a momentous sense of event and occasion if the fervent whooping to intersperse every last song is anything to muse upon, though at the same time there’s a strange and unshakable feeling of it being a nonevent in kind.
As with that now fetid though once extolled, blog-birthed chillwave faddism – and with that blog culture itself – Toro Y Moi may too yet transpire to be a fleeting phenomenon. And as with everything around these parts, this impression has perhaps been distorted by Shoreditch as it repeatedly provokes an omnipresent sense of self-consciousness (besides the subsequent self-loathing). Similarly, this given January Tuesday isn’t the ideal backdrop to Bundick’s summertime tunage although the unequivocal inevitability is that in a postcode more concerned by being seen, as opposed to observing; or being heard of being at, as opposed to actually hearing, well, Chaz is king; let alone the impatient prince in yearning.