Someone once asked me that if given the choice, would I prefer to die by drowning or by burning alive? What may seem like a frivolous question to some was actually quite serious to me. We’re talking about death after all, and while few deaths outside of suicide get next to no preferential input from the dying themselves, it’s still good to know what one is dealing with, let alone what one is talking about. So I hatched a plan to apprehend someone (likely someone on whom I wanted to get revenge), bind by the wrists and ankles, and dip headfirst into a body of water; just long enough for the subject to pass out so that I can revive him or her and survey his or her experience. Regrettably I could not go forward with this plan for a number of reasons, but I came upon an answer through different means. Several weeks after being asked I told my colleague what I think to be the most logical answer: if drowning feels how Toro y Moi sounds, then I’d gladly jump headfirst into the Hudson today.
The “wave” in “chillwave,” the sub-subgenre with which Toro y Moi (otherwise known as Chaz Bundick) is most associated, is not meant to convey a literal wave, of course, and yet that seems more appropriate. Regardless as to whether or not the label in its entirety is fitting for Bundick, there is no denying that his music is calming. But rather than calm like an afternoon breeze (a la Wye Oak or Real Estate), it calms like a wave with an oppressive force that pulls one in and swallows one well beneath the surface. It is as chill as it is inescapable, not to mention as it is immaculately arranged.
Toro y Moi may be one man but there are many more sounds that come from him. The typical song off of Underneath the Pine, his sophomore full-length, is one layered with synths and other key-based and electronic instruments, held firmly together by pensive bass lines and angora-soft percussion. Occasionally a guitar gets a word in edgewise. Above all of it is Bundick’s voice, which croons with hushed, slow-burning melodies and is amplified by reverb to the extent that it seems to have no other source than the ether itself. This is not to say that all of the songs have the same combination, indeed, Bundick can churn out ambient thought compositions such as “Before I’m Done” and “Light Black” just as much as he can go for the pop jugular as he does with the romantic funk of “Still Sound,” jauntier numbers like “New Beat” and “Got Blinded,” and the ballad “Good Hold.”
We cannot know what death is like until it happens, but until we can hope—or at least pretend—that it feels like Underneath the Pine is playing from unseen speaker systems, even in the loneliest places, and even if it comes up in those last few seconds when terror recedes into nonsense. Of course we can never know for sure, otherwise everyone will apply all their ingenuity and strength to die a lot sooner. In the bluest twilight, the blackest ocean, and just before everything deteriorates into nothing, Toro y Moi should there to haunt us and to comfort us.
Video: Toro y Moi – “New Beat”