I imagine the advent of glo-fi (or chillwave, or whatever you want to call it) as a golden age for car commercials. I say that with no snark intended; god knows I enjoy Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer,” but I can’t hear it without conjuring up an aerial shot of stylish twenty-somethings cruising down an oceanside road, laughing for absolutely no reason. I only hope Miracle Whip doesn’t catch on and ruin this for everybody by playing Washed Out behind one of their baffling, Reality Bites-esque sandwich-party ads.
Unlike the above-mentioned outfits, South Carolina native Chaz Bundick (a.k.a. Toro Y Moi) doesn’t have much to worry about in the way of commercial appropriation. Causers of This, his texture-obsessed contribution to an already atmosphere-centric genre, is far more willing to put sound before song than is the work of his peers. That makes for a great, often arresting listen, but it also probably means that Toro Y Moi is doomed. There’s nothing here that emotes as successfully as, say, Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” or comes off as fun as most anything produced by similarly situated chillwavers like Memory Tapes and Ducktails. Such are the pitfalls of being pulled into the orbit of a hot-shit micro-genre that everybody seems to suddenly care about; guaranteed press coverage that comes with a prefab context, transforming your album into one bucket of ice cream among many under glass at Baskin Robbins. Individual artists start sounding like variations on a theme. After trying a spoonful, a lot of people are going to walk passed Toro Y Moi Swirl and go straight for two scoops of Neon Indian Chunk.
This would be a shame, though, because Causers of This is a truly rewarding listen. It squirms and shimmers for an all-too-brief 33 minutes, sounding like somebody melted a cassette with a mix of early-90s R&B jams on one side and Person Pitchon the other. Highlights like “Talamak” cruise along at perfect head-nodding speed, splitting the difference between sexy and melancholy like a less streamlined, more sonically interesting Junior Boys. However, while there are some solid pop songs here, it’s really what’s going on in the periphery that grabs the listener. “Fax Shadow” is probably some sort of bummed-out lover’s apology (“I’m sorry I couldn’t name the color of your eyes”), but that doesn’t matter to the song half as much as the scattershot vocal samples or the pitch-shifting, filter-friendly detail work. Given this aptitude for keeping music interesting without relying on a chorus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the man behind the moniker moonlights as a house music producer (Les Sins). Washes of grainy, expertly crafted sound seep into every crack, doing things that Bundick’s sometimes not-quite-there falsetto could never do. The real miracle here is that the album works as well coming out of speakers as it does pumping through my giant headphones.
This isn’t to say Causers of This isn’t without its flaws. The album can feel like an undifferentiated sea of sound; one track flows into the next, and the squelching synth lines can seem interchangeable. While I imagine that might be the point, it doesn’t make for a particularly dynamic listening experience. Moreover, while there are a handful of decent hooks here, many of them could be sharper. On tracks like “Frank Love,” they tease the listener momentarily, pulling the audience out of the song’s heady mist to tickle pop-related expectations, but then ultimately fail to deliver. For some people, moments like this might make the record feel like one big exercise in sonic blue balls. For others like me, it’s a hugely enjoyable (if somewhat samey) record that scratches an itch Bundick’s chilled-out contemporaries can’t reach. As a record that does interesting things at the expense of some widespread appeal, I’m worried Toro Y Moi might be Pistachio to Washed Out’s Double Fudge. I prefer the former, but the latter is always going to get all the attention.