In an interview in late 2010, Toro Y Moi (a.k.a. Chaz Bundick) made it clear what he thought of the chillwave movement for which he’d been the poster child over the previous 12 months. “I’ve kinda gotten past that sound”, he said. “All that stuff is really good music, like Ernest Greene and Neon Indian. I’m a big fan of all of that, but I think that was just a small little period where we all happened to be, coincidentally.” This kind of distancing statement isn’t uncommon when it comes to genre labels, and from many artists it smacks a little of self-delusion, or at least an inability to reconcile their own views of their music with the consensus impression.
In this case, however, the facts are with Bundick. As a meaningful description, chillwave pretty much fell apart after 2010 as, one after the other, most of its mainstay artists moved above and beyond it. Neon Indian bucked the genre’s lo-fi association by shooting his sound into the stratosphere with last year’s M83-esque Era Extraña. For its part, June 2009, a compilation of Toro Y Moi’s early recordings, serves as a reminder that AOR guitar licks have been as important a part of his sound as chillwavy synths.
Of course, there are still a few tracks that hint at the more synth-heavy direction that Bundick was heading in for his debut LP Causers of This. Opening duo ‘Best Around’ and ‘Take the L to Leave’ sound like a first draft of the trademark Toro Y Moi template that his albums followed, their scratchy synths striking that strange, charming balance between the innocent melody of vintage kids’ TV themes and the curiously sexless groove of ’70s porn soundtracks. Indeed, ‘Talamak’ will sound familiar to Toro fans as an early version of a track that actually ended up on Causers of This. Here, the song’s elegant minimalism and classy R’n'B affectations are pre-dated by a choppier mix and a less emotionally detached outlook.
But despite the fact that the synth route has won out on Bundick’s subsequent releases, it’s clear that guitars were the dominant influence over him during 2009, when these songs were recorded. Some, like ‘Girl Problems’ and ‘Dead Pontoon’, simply seem to channel the well-known Toro Y Moi aesthetic through fizzing guitars and live drums rather than keyboards and synthetic whizz-pops. It’s a swap that’s both refreshing and fascinating, like seeing a familiar monument rebuilt with completely different materials.
Other tracks, however, will make the listener wonder what genre Bundick might have been associated with if he’d picked up the guitar more while recording Causers of This or Underneath The Pine. Certainly, the blue-collar funk on ‘Drive South’ would have made him a much more natural counterpart of Ariel Pink than, say, Washed Out. And the layers of balmy, contemplative acoustic guitar on ‘Warm Frames’ and ‘New Loved Ones’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Kurt Vile’s latest album. What makes this collection worthwhile for Bundick’s fans is its insight into the pupal stage of his career. On each song you can hear him probe in a new musical direction, searching for the right fit.
June 2009 might be a glimpse into Toro Y Moi’s past but it still manages to give us a new view of him, as a guitar pop songwriter who dextrously references and assimilates the influence of his more traditional forebears. Given Bundick’s work rate and his predilection for mixing things up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see guitars make a resurgence in his sound over the next few years. As much as that might sting for synth-pop enthusiasts, on this evidence it’d be a change well worth paying attention to.