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Toro Y Moi : Great Grooves, 21st Century Style

Mark Smotroff looks at some “Chillwave” music from Toro Y Moi.


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.”


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

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…


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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