Cards on the table: Causers Of This wasn’t just my favorite album of 2010, it was the best pop album since Homework. Not that I wanted Chazwick Bundick to be a one-trick pony or nuthin’, but Underneath The Pine — and its well-gossiped ambiance of folkiness thwarted — represented a sprawling disappointment: the scruffy passions of Schwitterian collage had been overcoached into a barren art deco façade; spontaneity had been usurped by craftsmanship, a sublimation that substituted anxiety fidgets with frigid mannerisms. The garden shed auteur had squeezed himself into top and tails.
Heart-sleeved, skewed, and sincere, Causers Of This was music for teenagers — for people who believe — for people who haven’t had their hope choked out of them. If I were heading out on a first date, I would listen to Causers Of This just to make my gut somersault.
Craftsmanship — a euphemism — is ten-a-penny: it’s freeware. Immanent stuff, emotion wrenched from the recursive symmetries of process, the synthetic media dreams of Causers Of This precluded any notion of acoustic origin: it was Oval as pop star. Bundick’s nerve failed: he took a band on the road, tried to hide his fear behind musicianship. True: you can’t fake being a frontman (check the car crash). Cocaine might help — but the impulses to perform, borne on currents of narcissism, arrogance, and a violent insecurity, are not bespoke: they are illnesses, really, weaknesses venerated over the course of a century.
But while it might be harsh to make a massive critical point out of TyM’s inability to be Jellybean-era Madonna reimagined by Brian Eno, it’s still all too easy to be discouraged from taking Freaking Out at face value.
Chaz, you’ve broke my heart before.
I just don’t know if I can trust you.
Against this backdrop of lowered expectation, Freaking Out must constitute some sort of return to form. There’s nothing as cruciform glorious as “Low Shoulder,” nothing as nuanced as “You Hid,” but the bittersweet urgency of old has been re-sparked. “All Alone” is school disco dancefloor dynamite, synth flares casting silhouettes of out-of-reach feminine lines; “Saturday Love” (it’ll never end) squelches lovelorn nostalgia out of soft synths and faux-Roland kicks; “I Can Get Love” is a post-filter house workout weaving together many of the elements that made Causers Of This such a success: a superabundance of melodic ideas, discarded almost as soon as they are elaborated; lovesick boy/girl falsetto crooning; a tendency toward digression allowing each detail time to breathe; a sensitivity to the science of reverb, each element uniquely smudged. A whiff of the five-finger exercise hangs over the Ableton pyrotechnics of the rest.
Can it be a coincidence that whereas the sterile Underwhelming The Pine was made under the weight of shifting pressures from within and without, this splendid patchwork is a sketchpad scrawl of on-tour recordings? Bundwick’s instincts might be messy, but they’re sound — spontaneity suits him. 2011 has yielded precisely one TyM release worth your time, and this is it.