Toro Y Moi : Great Grooves, 21st Century Style

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Over the past six months, I've been invited to some special parties thrown by a friend for his many music friends -- these parties are different than most because they are essentially gatherings for hardcore record geeks like me, and many of them are skilled DJs. Everyone brings their latest finds and old faves to these parties and people take turns mixing mini sets or even just playing a song or two.It was both exciting and scary to brush off my DJing skills without a net (I used to spin discs at some parties in college and apart from my own mixtapes and such, I admittedly hadn't had the opportunity to do that much since those days). Its a loose format and the focus is on having fun so its really low pressure and a great time to learn and get exposed to a lot of new music. 

One of the albums a couple of friends there turned us onto there is by an artist I hadn't heard of before named Toro Y Moi. His music isn't really dance oriented but there are a lot of use of sampled and programmed beats (I'm sure there are some live drums in there too). I haven't read much about him but if I had to, I'd probably file this more under soul and modern R 'n B.

The wiki (for what that is worth) identifies him as part of a movement called "chillwave":

"...sometimes also referred to as glo-fi, is a genre of music whose artists are often characterized by their heavy use of effects processing, synthesizers, looping, sampling, and heavily filtered vocals with simple melodic lines."

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There is definitely a bit of a retro sensibility about Toro's music on this album, which at times uses synthesizers reminiscent of early 70s Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, sounds I know I've heard on early records by Happy The Man, Genesis and Return to Forever.  I hear echos of 90s pop electronic works like Moodswings in this and soft vocals reminiscent of Prince's mellower moments. I also am reminded of Meshell Ndegeocello lovely jazz-infused album from 1999 Bitter (particularly tracks like "Satisfy" and "Loyalty")

After seeing (and hearing) these friends at the parties breaking out Toro Y Moi's latest album -- Anything In Return -- in beautifully packaged die-cut gatefold, pressed on pristine (likely)180-gram two-LP vinyl, I sprang for a copy myself and am not disappointed. It is a lovely listen and for all its glitchy production style, it has a nice warmth about it both on the low and high end.

Vintage analog synths perhaps? Old school drum machines or cut-up live drum performances? I don't know for sure, but I am liking what I'm hearing.

It reminds me at times of a more soul-driven version of Discovery, the fun side project by Ra Ra Riot vocalist Wesley Miles and Vampire Weekend Keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij.

And, yes, the irony of playing an LP with samples of a scratchy record grooves in the mix isn't lost on me.

It's all good, as they say...

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Whatever the case, this album works as a whole and builds to the point where the final side is a stirring trilogy of sorts, with "Day One," "Never Matter" and "How Is It Wrong" building in such a way that you don't realize they are three separate tunes. 

I could easily listen to Anything In Return in the car and, in fact, the included download card lets you obtain bonus 320 kbps MP3s which sound pretty decent too, all things considered; they sound a lot brighter and more digital flavored, but will be fine for drivetime listening. Of course, if you only listen to the digital versions you do miss out on the suprise ending Side 4: an endless runout groove repeating a floating synthesizer flourish.

I like this guy's music and am going to be checking out his other albums.

You should too.


Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com.  He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com

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