Chillwave is a genre that can’t really be defined. It’s one of those terms that means so many different things, that it means nothing. (Other examples of words like this: hipster, indie rock). Some may argue that chillwave could be defined as “electronic pop created on laptops, full of layers of synths” — but then again, that’s all so vague. What exactly is a laptop sound? Synths? Uh, okay? Plus, it doesn’t help that artists within the genre constantly bounce from musical style to musical style. Just look, for example, at the final track of Washed Out’s latest album Within and Without, “A Dedication” — a piano ballad that abandons the rest of the upbeat, R&B flavored tracks of the album, with lyrics that reek of nostalgia and hopelessness. So perhaps that’s it. Maybe we’re just looking this whole chillwave thing wrong. It’s not a term to define a song’s sound — but rather, a song’s feeling.
And it’s arguable that no musical project defines this theory more than Chaz Bundick’s Toro y Moi. His newest work — a quick, five-song EP called Freaking Out — is delightful and funky, both musically and emotionally. Coming just seven months after his last LP Underneath the Pine, the EP abandons the — as Chaz puts it — “real instruments” used for Pine (you know, like guitars and drums and stuff) and hops back behind the laptop, reverting back to the lush, atmospheric electronic pop of his debut album Causers of This. But, Freaking Out is a bit more fun. The lead single “Saturday Love” is a cover of a 1985 song by R&B singers Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal. And, with his own twist, Chaz explores a disco, more dance friendly version of the track. The song ends up as a representation of the rest of the EP. Each — especially “All Alone” and “Sweet” — could be found playing on a Saturday night in a club, and we wouldn’t feel too weird about it.
Despite only being just under 20 minutes long, Freaking Out uses that to its advantage. The songs don’t just sit and mellow in themselves. Rather, they’re quick and decisive. When making an atmospheric sound, it’d be easy to get lost creating layer after layer after layer. But Bundick is smart and doesn’t let that happen. He knows his limits, knows that the listener might be bored, and presents a clear cut sound of what he wants to accomplish. Chillwave or not, Chaz doesn’t really care. He’s just trying to create music that means something, and when he does, that’s what matters, and perhaps, that’s what makes it chillwave after all.