INTERVIEW ENOUGH MUSICIANS and you'll notice that many, if not all of them, purport to abhor "labels" or "boxes." They rail against compartmentalization, often refusing to identify as part of any single genre. Yet in most cases, their music is tightly contained and easily definable.
The work of Toro y Moi—the nom de record of Chaz Bundick—says fuck you to compartmentalization. Toro y Moi's new album, Anything in Return, is a model of diversity (take notes, GOP). Bundick reconfigures and blends every era of pop music, particularly black music, into an all-absorbing brew.
He taps into the killer instinct of hiphop. He pilfers Love Boat strings, layered Barry White horns, and wah-pedaled guitars from the Carter administration. He pings between feather-light soul—who else hears MJ-era Quincy Jones in the lustful "Say That"?—and flamingo-pink '80s freestyle like it's nothing. On one track, he'll resurrect the heartbeat-mimicking drum shuffle of an old Zapp & Roger cut. The next, he might overhaul crunk&B ("So Many Details [Remix]" is The-Dream all the way) or disco ("New Beat" sounds like James Murphy doing A Taste of Honey). The guy makes big-tent pop music.
To think that such a fearless producer could've arisen out of such a self-referential backwater of a genre. Bundick was a recent college grad when, in the summer of 2009, his downy bedroom recordings won the hearts of the indie rock press corps. (Pitchfork wrote this about 2010's Causers of This: "Bundick shows production skills far beyond most of his peers.") For months afterward, a certain unseemly journalized claim lingered. It was routine for critics to talk up Bundick as a "chillwave" producer—chillwave being the odd, tape-hissy smearing of '70s drive-time radio made famous (or infamous) by Washed Out, Neon Indian, and others.
Bundick does not make chillwave. That is tinker-toy, often drab music, with strange factorial clanks and reverb piled on in wanton volumes. It sounds small. Bundick is much less alienating. Fluent in the language of universality, Bundick clearly believes, as madcap hit makers tend to, that all good music is essentially pop music—and it's all included on Anything in Return.