When you willingly write and record music that belongs to a genre known as “chillwave,” you’re all but ensuring that your music will have a short shelf-life. In the dead of winter, the washed-out, summertime beach jams of Neon Indian and, well, Washed Out sound significantly less compelling — especially as people have unraveled the relatively lazy sampling that transformed long-forgotten italo-disco tracks by the likes of Gary Low and Pineapples into, respectively, “Feel It All Around” and “Psychic Chasms.” And of course, there’s the name itself. Glo-fi, chillwave — whatever you’d like to call it — has become so closely tied to the summer of 2009 that it’s nearly impossible to think of it as anything but ephemera. Will anyone really cop to being into “chillwave” in 10 years, or even in 10 months?
Having said all that, Toro y Moi’s Causers of This is a surprisingly vital addition to the chillwave canon. It’s a woozy, ambitious take on a genre that is too often predictable and formulaic. Make no mistake, Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick is a wholesale acolyte of the lo-fi aesthetic popularized by the likes of Memory Tapes and its ilk, yet through superior musicianship and thoughtful sampling, he manages to elevate what could be a stale, by-the-numbers sound.
Tracks like lead single “Blessa” take the standard chillwave template and turn it on its head; tempos ebb and flow like a warped record, and stutter-stop vocal samples come and go at random, giving otherwise relaxed-sounding chillout tunes a wobbly, disjointed feel. It’s a stylistic conceit that could undermine less fully realized songs, but Bundick uses it with such confidence that it becomes the signature of Causers of This.
Though undeniably upbeat, Causers of This moves along at a more deliberate pace than say, Psychic Chasms. But while Neon Indian’s 2009 breakthrough offered a club-ready, instantly gratifying pop sound, the music of Toro y Moi takes a bit more attention to appreciate. It’s a trade-off that will certainly turn away some, but those who listen closely will be rewarded by an album of surprising depth and varied influence. The records’ title track offers a hyperactive, lo-fi take on early ’90s R&B, and upon close inspection, listeners will find house, soul and R&B samples interwoven into nearly all of the albums’ 11 tracks.
Despite its basis in a genre with an expiration date, Causers of This is nonetheless an album worthy of consideration. While lacking in straight-ahead pop sensibility, it redeems itself by simply being interesting. It takes a degree of talent to experiment with sounds in the ways Bundick is doing here, and to do it at just 23 years old is still more impressive. Causers of This is by no means a great album, but it marks the debut of a talent more than capable of outlasting the unfortunate “chillwave” tag.