Chaz Bundick and Mat Cothran are quite different on the phone. Bundick, the Columbia, S.C.-based musician behind the lush, throbbing psychedelics of Toro Y Moi is reserved and polite. He speaks softly and succinctly, beginning most every response with “I think,” as though he fears his ideas on his own music might be wrong. He shouldn't fret. His points are direct and incisive, leaving little doubt as to his musical intentions.
Cothran leads combustible Spartanburg indie-pop act Coma Cinema, and his demeanor mirrors the contentious nature of his rough-and-tumble recordings. He's loud and brash, constantly devolving into long, irreverent tangents, punctuating them with a high, snot-nosed cackle. He rarely finishes thoughts, making it a task to decode what he really means. If you try to ask him the question again, you'll likely get a different answer.
As people, Bundick and Cothran are as contrasting as they come. But in music, their methods are similar. Both Toro Y Moi and Coma Cinema are “bedroom projects.” Bundick and Cothran play and record songs with their own equipment out of their S.C. homes.
Spartanburg is light on rock clubs and lighter on people willing to take local music seriously. Columbia's better, but its scene is largely on the rise. Local artists are left to compete for space at bars with touring acts, and cover bands make it a task to find gigs. Bundick and Cothran were left with plenty of time to explore their ideas, buying gear on the cheap and recording for their own satisfaction.
“I think because there wasn’t a lot of places to play, that just lead to me staying in my room and making more music,” Bundick says. He had made the rounds in Columbia with his previous band Heist and the Accomplice. With Toro Y Moi, he didn't rush out to compete for shows. “I wasn’t trying to play that stuff out, really. I was trying to keep it to myself and listen to it and make more. Even people outside of South Carolina can relate to that because it’s something you do. It’s your own little project.”
Bundick and Cothran's similar circumstances have produced complimentary sounds. Toro Y Moi operates at the juncture of beat-driven electronics and psyched-out pop and soul. This year's Underneath the Pines is dominated by fuzzy techno squalls that undulate in elliptical, druggy patterns. Bass lines swagger with sensual confidence as Bundick slices through with his disarming croon, a light, innocent-sounding instrument that Brian Wilson acolytes will love. These trips have their darker moments, but his reassuring melodies mellow everything out, resulting in a relaxing sonic high.
Coma Cinema sounds kind-of like the point at which Toro's high might start coming down. On Cothran's newest LP, Blue Suicide, caustic blasts of lo-fi synths explode alongside pounding, simplistic drums. Melodies bubble up in distorted glory as Cothran rants with a nasal mumble. Elements collide forcefully in the mix, creating catchy pop songs that leave choruses glued to your neurons and bruises swelling on your heart.
“We’re all doing our own things,” Bundick says. “We like each other's music. I think the Columbia scene is always like that, the S.C. scene really. It’s just a big collective, and there’s tons of gems still there that need to be found.”
Toro Y Moi is well past the point of being Bundick's “little project” now. His music has garnered acclaim from national publications like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, and the band he's put together to play with him is tearing through the festival circuit, landing spots at this year's Bonnaroo and Pitchfork music festivals, as well as Moogfest later this year.
Despite the success, Toro Y Moi's charm lies in Bundick's willingness to experiment. He pulls in elements from all over the spectrum of popular sound, cultivating a thrilling middle ground between the blown-out excursions of modern peers like Animal Collective and the tuneful craftsmanship of mainstays such as The Beach Boys and The Beatles. It's a balance he traces back to the days of trial and error his isolation afforded.
Cothran continues to experiment as well. His newly released Abandoned Lands EP pushes into strung-out electronics and dark, stream-of-consciousness-style narratives. It's an unnerving experience filled with creepy vocal effects and dark clouds of eerily shifting noise. With much of his equipment failing, Cothran resorted to new techniques to complete the album, like banging his head against a wall to create drum beats for one of the songs. The weirdness in his process shows in the final product, a gloriously bizarre song cycle, the sound of a man who has no one to tell him “no.”
“There’s still nobody paying attention around here, which is cool,” Cothran says of the hometown isolation that allows him to test his boundaries so freely. “I’ve grown to like that. In Columbia, people kind of know me, and then I come home.”
— Jordan Lawrence is assistant editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine.
who: Toro Y Moi and Coma Cinema, with RBTS WIN
where: Emerald Lounge
when: Friday, July 15 (10 p.m. $10/$12. http://www.emeraldlounge.com)