Toro y Moi Moves to Berkeley, Thao Nguyen Finds Inspiration in Jail, and More
From SF Weekly's latest print edition:
Andrew Paynter Toro y Moi's Chaz Bundick
Toro y Moi Thaws Out: In 2011, Bundick made his biggest hop yet: He moved from his native South Carolina to Berkeley, accompanying his longtime girlfriend as she entered graduate school. It was in Berkeley -- away from friends and family, amid the threat of earthquakes and the pressures of his girlfriend's studies -- that Bundick wrote and recorded his third album as Toro y Moi. Anything in Return, which came out last month, shortens the cycle of nostalgia from two decades to one: It's the 26-year-old's take on post-millennial hip-hop, pop, and R&B; the Toro y Moi synthesis of producers like Kanye West, J. Dilla, and Just Blaze, plus a little Justin Bieber, too.
Anything in Return is also the finest Toro y Moi album yet. That's partly because this set of songs, more than any of Bundick's other recent output, begins to reveal that its maker -- the plainly dressed prince of chillwave, the laconic young lord of the laptop, the bike-riding Berkeley resident and runny-nose announcer -- maybe isn't so chill after all...
Jailed Heart: Thao Nguyen Finds Inspiration in Prison: Last February, just minutes after taking off her jewelry, handing over her Social Security number, and removing her bra, Thao Nguyen found the inspiration for her new album, We the Common.
The setting was Valley State Prison for Women, an institution that Nguyen visits four or five times per year as part of her work with the nonprofit California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Gaining entry meant submitting to a background check, and forfeiting the right to wear bright colors and -- for fear of an underwire being weaponized -- certain undergarments. Her muse was Valerie Bolden, an inmate to whom the album's title track is dedicated. Bolden, who is serving a life sentence, spoke to Nguyen about the two daughters she hadn't seen in 12 years, and about her fear of dying while incarcerated. Nguyen remembers a visit characterized as much by its moments of poignancy as by its "insane" power dynamics.
"I couldn't shake this conversation ... the sadness of it and the humanity of it," she says. "It's a really bizarre setting to be in. There's a lot of stark contrast in that -- to know that she was sentenced to life, and that I would go, and she would stay..."