Chaz Bundick’s rise from bedroom pop novice to indie darling will likely forever be synonymous with the height of the chillwave fad in early 2010. Within a four-month span, Washed Out’s ‘Life Of Leisure’, Neon Indian’s ‘Psychic Chasms’, and Toro Y Moi’s own ‘Causers Of This’ all made waves, with each record combining faded ‘80s synths and reverb-soaked guitars with vague sketches of youthfulness to major effect. Since then, ‘Underneath The Pine’ and particularly 2013’s ‘Anything In Return’ — which is a nuanced culmination of Bundick’s best work — have seen Toro Y Moi far outgrow the narrow confines of their niche chillwave origins.
2015’s ‘What For?’, on the other hand, is a drastic deviation away from the project’s well-cultured brand of synth-pop. Blippy electronics, Dilla-inspired beats, and heavy production are jettisoned in favour of glo-fi garage rock tracks accented with deep bass grooves and crunchy guitars. Despite having its bright moments, like the zany Wilco appeal of ‘Empty Nesters’ and the melodic sway on ‘Buffalo’, the album ultimately lands as a swooping drain of momentum, a disruption from the approach that made ‘Anything In Return’ Toro Y Moi’s most accomplished release ever.
On ‘Live from Trona’, Bundick offers fresh spins on some of his least resonant work. Staged in pleasant California desert environs, the concert draws principally from ‘What For?,’ with clusters of tracks from both ‘Underneath The Pine’ and ‘Anything In Return’ featuring prominently either side of the piercing riffs on ‘JBS’, Toro’s collaboration with The Mattson 2 and the record’s lone new offering.
Between songs, a few animated doodles add zest and darkness falls over the valley, cueing up a light show accompanied by full-on U2 360° tour-style camerawork. In many ways, the full band setup suits Bundick just fine, but given his chops as a producer, the plush and expansive sound feels overwhelmingly indulgent by comparison.
At its core, Toro Y Moi’s first live release serves as a closing statement in favour of the forgettable ‘What For?’, and is akin to other live albums in that it’s largely inconsequential. To be fair, only very rarely does a live album come along that seems to actually matter — think Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’ or Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense’, even Neil Young’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or Radiohead’s ‘I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings’.
The jury will remain out on whether the indie-rock façade suits Bundick as well as the sophisticated dance-pop he championed earlier in his career, but what’s certain is that ‘Live from Trona’ is a bit of fun from an artist intent on exploring the bounds of his creative universe, and there’s little telling where that may lead next.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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