For such a fidgety individual as far as his music may be concerned, Chazwick Bundick has stuck by his Toro Y Moi nom de plume – one he can no longer even so much as recall the original significance of – for a remarkably long while: first assumed at the tender age of fifteen (and thus already eleven ago), his albums themselves have never maintained anywhere near that same degree of consistency as he’s flittered leaf-like between the more ebullient niches of house; the most intricate nooks of electronica; and the more refined crannies of indie-pop while hopping from record to record. And these stylistic discrepancies have simultaneously pervaded the albums themselves, at times leading to mildly discombobulating listens here and there. Aptly, third full-length Anything In Return is something of a robust case in point of this inability, or perhaps rather a reluctance, to cement for himself and his Toro Y Moi moniker a concrete musical identity…
That’s inevitably no matter when Bundick weighs in with the clunky, funk-addled scuffles of an appositely effervescent Cola – the track here snared which best exhibits his proficiency when it comes to nifty production techniques. Though as doleful pianos roll beneath soughing synth lines, there’s a vacuity to his jejunely articulated lyrics (which here, as is the case with several other instances contained within this one, concern the finite nature of most romances) that almost negates his purportedly exclusively bedroom-restricted abilities. Lyrics have never been Bundick’s forte, and one has often sensed that they’ve rarely so much as even been a fleeting concern as he instead opts to float largely falsetto-registered sweet nothings over the top of his disproportionately more assured grooves. (The sparse vocals of the Kwes-esque Touch fare rather better as an obvious counterpoint.)
However, his insouciant attitude toward this particular facet of his creative output can also serve to endear, as it does on the segueing Studies: gauche as anything Dent May has yet done, it’s once again a lullabying beauty musically though his breathy, momentarily Air-y coos of girls snoozing offset the virtuosity with a nonchalance and serene naïveté that at once only enhances its compulsive seduction. “Never leant to study much but you” he soothes as may a reticent high schooler finally inducted into co-ed environs for a very first time and with Bundick currently in the slippery clutches of love himself, it’s a kinda cute, if ultimately unsuspecting chanson to his at least contemporarily beloved.
Day One – again a somehow seemingly college-affiliated smooth – recalls the retroactive buoyancy of those bright opening moments to his previous, Underneath The Pine, if their irrepressibly estival hues have here mellowed to a considerably more sultry R’n’B tone replete with the genre’s traditional lyrical ambiguity, as snatches of “I wanna make you want it/ Won’t you take it in” punctuate oh’s and woah’s. Chillwave this ain’t though again, Bundick embarks upon a charm offensive as he humbly avows: “I wanna make my life your life/ I’ll wake up with you and I’ll give you right” which, however sentimentally invested, is this time mildly trivialised by the gloopy pop whimsy against which it is set.
And indeed another criticism which can feasibly be levelled at the Chazmeister General concerns his over reliance on his natty post-recording expertise: indisputable as it may be, what may be called into question is whether or not it serves to distract, and in turn flatter to deceive with a resilient structuring of the songs themselves eschewed in favour of a sporadically excessive exercise in overzealous scrubbing. Never Matter is one which quite categorically suffers as such: sounding like a Fenech-Soler offcut with a proggy interlude thrown in just to cursorily pepper its otherwise insubstantial, soul-daubed synth-pop, it provokes strangely disagreeable reminiscences of both Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots and Chaka Khan’s Fate, without ever attaining that same level of memorability intrinsic of either. Album closer How’s It Wrong so too forgoes conventional definition, in favour of refined sounds that seem almost as scrupulously touched-up as most gloss-veneered cover stars. It’s vexatious, and from an external perspective appears a waste of an irreproachable talent.
And arguably, that’s the primary reason for which there’s more oozing negativity than effusive positivity above – it’s conceived of frustration if nothing else, and of course glimmers of brilliance still feature: the shimmering Rose Quartz could, in the right ears, viably establish Bundick as a successor to Nile Rodgers’ mutedly melancholy, if infernal disco sovereignty whilst the grimy, hip hop-affected high time vibes of Say That whisk the reclining mind away to Bundick’s now native West Coast. It’s this relocation to Berkeley, California to which the expressive lounge of opener Harm In Change refers, though perhaps more pertinently its title seems to presage the reality that his persistent jittering from one genre to another is having something of a pernicious impact even upon his impeccable bedroom twiddling. And in return? A plethora of question marks about an identity in slight crisis.
Released: January 21st, 2013 [Carpark Records]