It may be June, usually the prime season for spaced-out chillwave tunes perfect for warm rooftop nights and days floating in some large body of water. And if there’s anyone that knows how to provide that kind of sonic accompaniment its Chaz Bundick, better known as Toro Y Moi. But with his new remix of Billie Holiday’s "My Man" we’re given the perfect track for wandering through the grey days and dark wet nights that have been bestowed upon us as of late.
There are still a lot of people out there who have a negative connotation when the words "smooth" and "music" are combined, and I’m the first to say that not all smooth music is necessarily good. This isn’t your generic, corny smooth jazz CD or your boring easy-listening station (although there are some gems in those genres, as well). I’m attracted to the smooth tracks from all genres, of which there are more than you can even imagine. To ease the pressures off your Mondays, I bring you the “Smooth Jams” series, my favorite smooth tracks of the week.
Be sure to check out Sea Level tonight and every first Monday of the month at Tender Trap in Brooklyn. Free smoothness for all begins at 9 PM. I promise you’ll hear songs like this and many more to start your work week off on a smoother note.
Software – "Island Sunrise" (1988)
Shots out to Mamiko Motto for putting me onto this one (tune into her show Hepcat Radio on NTS every Wednesday 8-9 PM GMT). Anything beginning with the sounds of the ocean is off to a good start, but the ethereal pads, synthesizer chimes, and overall musicality of this track makes me melt.
Mya – "Smilin" (1997)
This unreleased gem by Mya is produced and arranged by Devante Swing, one of the most under appreciated musical geniuses of our time. Check your history!
Toro y Moi – "Touch" (2012)
Whoever said that no one is making any smooth jams anymore, is straight up wrong. Toro Y Moi serves up a tasteful and laid back groover. (pro-tip: mix into this.)
Toto – "Human Nature" (1983)
Toto basically recorded this entire song before showing it to Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. I love this version almost as much as the hit most people know off Thriller. Toto were the unsung smooth heroes of the late ’70s and early ’80s: they were studio musicians on so many of the best tracks.
The Doobie Brothers – "Minute by Minute" (1978)
Gotta end with some yacht rock from one of the godfathers of smooth, Michael McDonald. AND I SAY CHURCHHHHHHHHH (shout out Meek Mill).
Carpark Records, a Washington, D.C.-based indie label home to chillwavers like Toro y Moi, garage rockers like Cloud Nothings, and experimentalist bands like Ecstastic Sunshine, this month announced an addition to their roster: Dog Bite. The debut, Velvet Changes, out February 5, is already shaping up to be a good one. Take a listen.
Dog Bite is led by Phil Jones, known for playing keyboards for the touring version of Washed Out (which is otherwise a one-man outfit). The first single off Velvet Changes is “Prettiest Pills,” which launches with an unexpectedly greasy riff before layering over aqueous synths and reverbed vocals.
Even better is “Forever, Until,” which further refines the marriage of chillwave’s airy pastel tones and garage guitar. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Dog Bite is bringing together a lot of divergent approaches found among the Carpark set.
As an added bonus, you can also download a great mixtape from Jones, Winter in Atlanta. It certainly offers some clues as to what sounds we might expect to hear come February.
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At 15 years old, Chaz Bundick began making music in his bedroom. The Columbia, South Carolina native has since risen to become one of indie music’s most original voices, under the name Toro y Moi, having already produced two critically acclaimed full-length albums, Causers of This and Underneath the Pine, and an EP, Freaking Out, which was released on September 13. Earlier this summer, we caught up with Bundick backstage at the Pitchfork Music Festival—where Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator jammed to his set backstage—and got him to share some thoughts on his origins, his success, and his inspiration
Where did the name, Toro y Moi, come from? I was on a road trip with my parents when I was 15, and I just made that name up. I wrote it down and started drawing it everywhere, and I stuck with it since I was 15.
During that time you started a so-called “bedroom project,” and now Toro y Moi has evolved into something much bigger. Has it remained fun? It has its ups and downs. There’s a lot of traveling involved, a lot of being away from home and from friends and family, but on top of that, you’re doing something you love and you just sort of keep the focus.
You grew up and still live in Columbia, South Carolina. How has South Carolina impacted your music, and what advantages and disadvantages have you found being separate from bigger music hubs like Brooklyn or L.A.? I guess the main advantage is we’re out there by ourselves, and people are starting to pay attention. It’s easier to be noticed when you’re from a scene like that. I think Columbia’s scene as a whole can stand out more because it’s Southern, and there’s only Chapel Hill, Atlanta and Athens, that area. Georgia and North Carolina have their thing—but for another thing to pop up in South Carolina, for instance, it’s going to have a better chance of being noticed, as opposed to California, where there’s tons of music everywhere.
Does it ever feel isolating? Not really, because I think the Internet helps cultures easily mesh. Within the arts, it’s easier to communicate with other artists and fans and make connections. I don’t really feel left out. I feel like Columbia isn’t out of the loop or anything. The only thing is the location is very uncommon. Other than that, it feels pretty normal.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming EP, Freaking Out? What can we expect from that? It’s a 25-minute pop extravaganza. It’s going to be really fun. I’m excited to play it live.
What is influencing you most directly now? It’s hard to say, because I’m always incorporating my influences, no matter how the music sounds. If it’s electronic, I’m still finding influences from jazz and psychedelic music, and I still incorporate my influences of house and disco. My influences are like a pendulum. I’ll work on something with live instruments or I’ll work on electronic music. but I’ll always take something from each whenever I go back.
The hipster gradation begins on the subway. You know you’re getting closer to the Pitchfork Music Festival as the crowd on the El, Chicago’s famed elevated subway system, begins to shade from downtown office workers and tourists coming in from O’Hare to twentysomethings in cut-offs, neon, and free-range beards. Unlike other music festivals in more remote locations – Coachella, Bonnaroo – the caravans to Pitchfork aren’t composed of Subaru Outbacks, but rather the Green Line, the Ashland bus, and bikes. Indeed, one of the best things about Pitchfork is the extent to which it identifies with the city of Chicago, home to the e-zine’s headquarters (there’s also an office in Brooklyn, of course).
"It feels good to have established Pitchfork here in Chicago. It really is, I guess, an institution at this point," says Ryan Schreiber, founder and CEO of Pitchfork Media (author’s note: no relation). Chicago pride is on display throughout the weekend–vintage Bulls jerseys abound, and more remarkably still, you can catch glimpses of naked arms displaying Chicago-flag tattoos.
The three-day fest, held in Chicago’s Union Park, provides that rare combination of big-name talent (Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes and TV on the Radio were this year’s headliners) with an intimate, community vibe. Compared to larger behemoths, Pitchfork only sells 18,000 tickets per day; to put that in perspective, the attendance at Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza each hover between 70-80,000 fans. Rather than having every sensory organ pummeled – competing guitar chords, the musky scent of sweat not your own pervading your nostrils – Pitchfork allows its attendees a high-quality experience, where you can actually take in and be aware of your surroundings rather than be overwhelmed by them. Incidentally, it also makes finding your friends and bumping into people you know easier.
"We’ve done it in this park for seven years, and there are many other opportunities to move it to a bigger park or do something different with it, but I just like this. I feel like this is the perfect size. Get much larger and you have to walk for miles to get to where you’re going," says Schreiber.
Because it’s sponsored by the influential online music magazine rather than a big marketing firm, there can be, at times, a distinct ‘industry vibe’ (the ratio of industry-to-non industry folks is higher than at bigger fests, even if overall numbers are low). You can’t go more than two feet without seeing someone prance by in a "VIP" pass, "Artist" pass (which managers, agents, and publicists may wear in addition to the bands), or "Press" pass. All of this is a long way of saying that this festival has cred, both geeky and cool.
In addition to the previously-mentioned headliners, buzz-worthy acts like Das Racist, James Blake, Odd Future, Toro y Moi, Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, and Cut Copy were joined by veterans such as Guided By Voices, Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth), Off!, and DJ Shadow. The process of choosing the lineup is "about booking the artists we really love," according to Schreiber. "We [the Pitchfork staff] come up with sort of a dream list, collectively." Twin Shadow Das Racist
Battles was one of the first acts to kick off Friday, playing a high-energy set that included LED screens of Gary Numan and Matias Aguayo singing in the background. Perhaps it was the heat, but the crowd, though receptive to the show, seemed to be conserving its energy, failing to match the moxie onstage. Towards the end of the show, guitarist Dave Konopka shouted "Afterward, everyone’s invited to my house, 857 Marshfield. We’ll have a party there." (A quick and stalker-y perusal of Chicago’s White Pages was unable to verify if the Battles guitarist had actually just invited thousands of people to his house.)
Despite the fact that they didn’t humor the audience by playing "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," Das Racist provided some on-stage rowdiness, enhanced by their hype man, Dap, deliriously jumping and running around onstage. The crowd erupted and girls were hoisted onto dudes’ shoulders when the three rappers came onstage and played "Who’s That? Brooown!" The energy (both that of the group and of the crowd) dipped a little towards the middle of the set (at one point, a rapper named Danny Brown from Fool’s Gold hopped onstage, and although his performance promised a talented new MC, the crowd was just hankering for more Das Racist). Finally, towards the end of the show, hands were back in the air when Das Racist launched into "You Oughta Know" before ending the set with "Rainbow in the Dark."
James. Blake. James Blake is perhaps the most buzzed-about artist to play Pitchfork this year and, perhaps, one of the must buzzed about new artists anywhere. Let’s not mince words: Blake did not disappoint. Whereas, after listening to the slow and sparse songs on his debut self-titled album, it can sometimes be tricky to see how his music is affiliated with dubstep, his pitchfork performance was a new (and exciting) experience entirely. The powerful, heavy bassline that’s so characteristic of dubstep came across more clearly in his set than I’d ever heard it before, yet the enveloping beats still left space to enjoy Blake’s haunting vocals. Blake’s stage presence (much like his demeanor in person) was charming and mild-mannered, most clearly evidenced by the fact that he chose to sit off to the side of the stage rather than front-and-center. When he played "CMYK," the crowd turned wild, getting down to the lighter and dance-ier track. Before a rapt audience at dusk, he closed the set with a great rendition of one of his album’s signatures, "The Wilhelm Scream."
After Animal Collective’s Friday night closing set, the crowds dispersed, many en route to any number of "Official" and "Unofficial" after shows and parties. One of the most cleverly marketed parties proved to be a fête hosted by Patron XO Cafe, Spin Magazine, and Superfly marketing group. Invites had been emailed to guests a few days before, revealing only the date and time of the party and vague instructions about finding a food truck parked near the festival grounds, where more information and directions would be dispensed. By 10pm, a small crowd was gathered outside Mama Green’s Gourmet Goodie Truck eager to continue the party-meets-scavenger hunt. We were given cups of iced coffee with the secret address of the event written on the coffee sleeve, which turned out to be the site of Chicago’s Prairie Studios. We party-goers ended up being a funny mix of media folk a little grungy from hanging outside at the festival all day and some of Chicago’s most beautiful people decked out in cocktail dresses and heels. Once inside, you could pose for professional photographs with models dressed in 20s-inspired burlesque costumes, sip any number of Patron-inspired cocktails, and chomp down on classic Chicago-style hors d’oeuvres such as "mini deep dish pizzas" or mini Italian sausages. Walking around the beautiful inside-outside space, sipping Patron margaritas, we could also listen to a live band and watch a magic show. Even if some of it was a little gimmicky – and more than a few people wished the live band could have been replaced by a DJ (of which there are many in Chicago, like the Hood Internet and Flosstradamus) – the party was a success. Fleet Foxes
Saturday’s uncomfortably hot temps didn’t stop people from getting down during Gang Gang Dance‘s set, which provided a raucous blend of their unique multi-instrumental, percussion-heavy dance music laced with electro. After feverishly jumping and jolting onstage during instrumental breaks, lead singer Lizzie Bougatsos took the mic and told the audience, "If you can’t act crazy onstage, there’s no reason to live. If you see me humping a monitor, you just know."
As it grew later and became just a touch cooler, crowds coalesced before the Green Stage to see Fleet Foxes, who played one of the best sets of the weekend. Given the usual amount of delays in between set changes, people were visibly impressed when the band hopped on stage to begin their show a mere seconds after DJ Shadow ended his at an adjacent stage. Playing mostly songs from their first album led a guy next to me to remark, "They’re just putting on a big show. That’s what they’re doing." Yes, sir. The sound quality was stellar, such that you could actually distinguish between the various instruments onstage. The hushed crowd broke out into cheers when the first chords of "White Winter Hymnal" reverberated out across the crowd–a song that can evoke feelings of wintry tranquility and Christmas tidings even during the peak of summer. In a smart move, they brought the crowd out of their trance with a rocking rendition of "Ragged Wood" before ending on a song from their new album, the titular "Helplessness Blues."
As Day 2 drew to a close, not everyone had the stamina to keep up with the afterparties, but for those of us who did, many chose to head over to Beauty Bar, which hosted one of the few "Official Pitchfork After Parties," featuring DJ sets by Twin Shadow, members of Deerhunter, and Tim Koh of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. The Pitchfork crew (including Ryan Schreiber) were in attendance, as well as members of the Windish Agency (disclosure: I do some on-and-off unpaid work for Windish), which represents both Twin Shadow and Deerhunter and DJ/local celeb Million $ Mano.
Sunday was the most anticipated day at the fest if for only one reason: Odd Future. Already one of the most hyped new acts, Odd Future’s show at Pitchfork received a particularly large amount of publicity due to the planned anti-violence protest during their set. For better or for worse, it appeared that by the end of the afternoon it was Odd Future: 1, Protesters: 0. Representatives from anti-violence groups were in attendance and handing out fans as first reported, but the ill-conceived gesture didn’t seem to have much impact. Sunday was an inferno and concert attendees were grateful to get a fan–any fan–but hardly anyone gave nary a glance to see what was emblazoned on its side (besides, there had been several different sponsors handing out fans throughout the weekend so any novelty was lost). If anything, the preceding controversy and the insane amount of PR that ensued only upped the ante for Odd Future, increasing what would already have been a huge crowd. Odd Future
Though it was the first time I’d ever seen the collective, Odd Future’s set was basically exactly as I expected: brash, punky, and a pretty damn good time. As Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah reported in her feature on the group in this month’s BlackBook, the guys understand the role they (and the media) have created for themselves, and they work hard to live up to it. They seem to relish playing the part of the villainous rap group, donning freakish masks during set, strutting across the stage, and chest thumping with the bravado that only a twenty-year-old can possess. Occasionally, the heavy bass drowned out some of their lyrics, but when you could hear Tyler, the Creator or Hodgy Beats, their oft-reported crudeness and offensiveness was in full force ("You fucking bitch, you smell like dick").
One majorly weird thing I witnessed were hipster parents who’d brought their toddlers to Odd Future’s set, the dad bopping around to Tyler’s jams with the tot on his shoulders (there were actually a disconcerting amount of hipster parents who brought their kids–sometimes babies!–to the fest). Neither the baby sightings nor the fact that Tyler had been hobbled by a broken foot and monster cast (he spent much of the set seated but managed to get up and chant "Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School" at the end) killed the vibe. As the show ended, Left Brain did a half stage dive/ half body slam, throwing himself projectile-style into the crowd. It was a fitting description of the group itself and their Pitchfork show: aggressive and in your face but openly received by the mainstream.
After that intensity, it was nice to take a breather before heading over to absorb Toro y Moi’s blissed-out, disco-y electronica. Even though the crowd was subdued–maybe still recovering from the heat or Odd Future’s set, or both–their stillness could not be mistaken for disinterest: all eyes were fixed on Toro y Moi, lapping up his every beat.
Finally, as the sun set over the Chicago skyline, TV on the Radio came on and gave everyone a festival-wide second wind. With the ubiquity of electronica or experimental pop at the fest, the explosion of percussion heralding their rock show was a welcome sound. Throughout the set, intensity built up with a steady trajectory but, almost teasingly, would hold out, captured as if like steam pressure in some kind of boiler. That is, until they broke out full-force into "Dancing Choose" ("He’s a newspaper man") and "Wolf Like Me," their crescendos giving the crowd the relief they wanted. The audience ebbed and flowed in a massive wave of dancing and even the industry folk gathered on the VIP risers had their guards down and were seen grooving (one VIP was even maniacally jumping around). Finally, towards the end of the show, hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces joined TV on the Radio onstage, playing tambourine shakers as backup to "A Method."
And with that, another impressive performance ended along with another impressive effort by Pitchfork’s organizers. The festival proved that once again it lived up to much more than the hype of being an "indie fest" or "hipster fest," displaying a diverse line-up and three days of non-stop musical experiences. Combining the cool, industry-ness of SXSW with the grassy, park setting of a large-scale music festival and the intimacy and community vibe of your local fest, Pitchfork has managed to create a unique festival experience. It is sure to continue being a destination for those seeking to hear some of the best acts they know and to be exposed to new ones they don’t.
All Photography by Steve Scap
Katie Costello, Lamplight (Tiny Tiny) Ignore the sudden sensation of being thrown into an iPod commercial, because the feel-good, piano-heavy melodies on Katie Costello’s sophomore album are instantly offset by quirky lyrics and rich, reverberating vocals. Costello’s first record, Kaleidoscope Machine, which she released independently at the age of 17, was a collection of sing-along anthems tailor-made for histrionic teen dramas like One Tree Hill and 90210. With all that CW-approved angst now out of her system, Costello has crafted a more mature, evolved sound, drawing likenesses to Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple. But with her fresh point of view, Costello has carved out a space all her own. —Nadeska Alexis
Acrylics, Lives and Treasure (Hot Sand/Friendly Fire Recordings) On their full-length debut, Acrylics’ Molly Shea and Jason Klauber retread the same sonic terrain—’70s soft rock and ’80s new wave—they first explored to dreamy effect on their 2008 EP, All of the Fire, which was produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. Slow, oozing harmonies and sinewy synthesizer beats form a backdrop for tales of sticky August nights spent with a lover. The album’s most successful moments find the Brooklyn-based duo sharing vocal duties on tracks like “Counting Sheep,” where Shea, a smooth and hypnotic presence, makes room for Klauber’s folk-tinged voice, creating an unpredictable amalgam of oddball sounds. —NA
The Go! Team, Rolling Blackouts (Memphis Industries) The Brighton collective’s third album—their breakthrough, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, was released in 2004—is a field study in genre. Hopscotching between styles and eras, often on the same track, Rolling Blackouts is a jubilant journey through the land of Nostalgia. From the girl-group sheen of “Ready to Go Steady,” to the boogie-down, brassy rap (courtesy of in-house emcee Ninja) on album opener and lead single “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.,” the Go! Team remains committed to a retro aesthetic that sounds new. The album’s strongest track, “Buy Nothing Day,” features vocals from Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and recalls the best summer you’ve ever had. —Ben Barna
PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant) PJ Harvey has left Brooklyn rooftops behind and returned her focus to Britain. The UK looms large in Let England Shake, a haunting collection of 12 songs that trade introspection for an outward-looking take on the fog, graveyards, and ghosts of her homeland. The seminal indie songstress has produced an album—which she recorded in a 19th-century church in Dorset—that defies comparison, both with other artists and her own earlier work. On “The Glorious Land,” the sharp strains of a bugle give way to lyrics praising fields of wheat, while “England” strikes a more personal note, with Harvey singing of “withered vines reaching from the country that I love,” a possible allusion to her prolific two-decade career. Harvey is at her best with “Written on the Forehead,” a ska-influenced track that evokes a hopeful counterpoint to northern austerity. Inscrutable, engaging, and endlessly satisfying, this is pure Polly Jean, through and through. —Victor Ozols
Bright Eyes, The People’s Key (Saddle Creek) After settling on a roster of permanent musicians in the once-revolving cast of Bright Eyes players, Conor Oberst insists that his seventh studio album will be the band’s last. It’s appropriate, then, that The People’s Key is all about time—time travel, specifically. Instead of building on the Gram Parsons influences heard on Cassadaga, Bright Eyes’ last offering, The People’s Key embraces the opulence of Bowie glam and psychedelic rock. Carla Azar from Autolux and the Faint’s Clark Baechle are among the many guests who join in on an album that Oberst says was heavily influenced by dystopic literary icons, from Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood. —CG
Toro Y Moi, Underneath The Pine (Carpark) We’ll never understand why recording artist Chazwick Bundick felt he couldn’t use his real name to release his sneakily addictive music, but Toro y Moi, the moniker under which he prefers to put out his lo-fi tunes, will do just fine. Underneath the Pine, the South Carolina native’s second effort with Carpark records, finds 24-year-old Bundick returning to chill-wave, a controversial mini-genre that seems to undersell the record’s smart layering and instrumentation. Siphoning from a depthless reservoir of disco nostalgia on tracks like “New Beat,” and fellow halcyon rockers like Neon Indian and Animal Collective on others, Toro y Moi’s songs mix and master everything from European house to Ennio Morricone. —Megan Conway
Darwin Deez, Darwin Deez (Lucky Number) They say the devil is in the details, which is perhaps why Darwin Deez’s self-titled debut sounds so heavenly—it eschews minutiae. Quick-clipped melodies and a drum machine are all Deez needs to ignite his pared-down sound, bubbling with chipper lyrics that are neither affected nor adolescent. Deez, a native New Yorker, is a nerdier Devendra Banhart, his cheerful façade lessening the blow of “The Bomb Song” when he sings, “I heard about 6,900 people have died.” Along with critical acclaim, the ringletted singer-songwriter’s straightforward manner and scratchy guitars have earned him comparisons to the Strokes’ Albert Hammond, Jr. and Adam Green. They should all jam together and bring a whole new meaning to the term “hair band.” —Cayte Grieve