In his humble home studio, producer/musician Toro Y Moi complicates his ultimately easygoing lo-fi psyche-pop with glitzy nuances and meandering, sampled swells of sound. Causers of This isn’t going to be entirely unfamiliar to those of us who’ve been finding comfort in Washed Out, Memory Tapes, etc., as well as in Koushik’s pleasant montages of crackling soul pieces — lifted from dusty records — and live, reverb-heavy vocals. And aside from the indirect influence that these celebrators of samplers and vintage equipment have on Toro Y Moi’s creative direction, his debut LP is strewn with disco, ’80s synth/radio pop, and chopped-up hip hop that sound as if they’re being played back on a weathered cassette.
The South Carolina-born Chaz “Toro Y Moi” Bundick says he owes his most prominent musical experiences to his parents, and their record and cassette tape collection. The latter format was incidentally instrumental in building a web presence for Bundick, as Mirror Universe Tapes issued and quickly sold out of the artist’s pre-Causers July 2009 Body Angles cassette. The audio tape thing also aligns with what’s sometimes a painfully superfluous tribute to ’80s production and instrumentation on Causers of This, which will warm the hearts of many who still find reassurance in coke and “ironic” throwback nights at their neighborhood bar. This debt to the ’80s isn’t a brawny enough spoiler to truly mar Bundick’s debut LP, and The Guardian‘s Paul Lester speculated a while back that of the two Toro Y Moi full-lengths planned for 2010, one may be an artful recasting of the surf pop sound that Bundick explored on “109”, the B-side of magnificent Causers single “Blessa”. If that’s the case, bring it on. There isn’t anything about Causers that suggests a limit to this twenty-something’s propensity to experiment, and in thinking about the evolving work of somewhat like-minded electronics/organics pop purveyor Caribou, this is always a good thing.
Presumably, Chaz Bundick’s parents’ purchases allowed for their son to tunnel his way out of the punk sounds that shaped his previous efforts (the raw aesthetic of Body Angles‘ “Supposed to Do” may reference the harder music that used to come out of Bundick’s practice space) and to head straight for whatever the kids are calling the fluid, stitched-together pop on Causers of This. Internet people have scrambled to tack a genre name onto this for a while but if history and “folktronica” have taught us anything, it’s likely that in the long run, a catchy moniker will lead to laziness and frustration for all parties involved rather than provide an apt descriptor.
While they spiral off into sometimes choppy and difficult-to-follow dance music or R&B, Bundick’s songs offer a number of colorful characteristics that lend a consistent thread to Causers. In a lot of instances, for example, a sampled strummed guitar chord quickly melts away, having gone from sounding as if pulled from its source as-is to grotesquely pitch-bent and heavily treated in a matter of seconds. Donuts-styled funk and vocal bits are chopped and smeared to incoherent bits in “Fax Shadow” and “Talamak”, which allows for plenty of reason to brand this very hazy music.
As far as singing goes, outside of an ambitious Pharrell-like reach or two during “Imprint After”, Bundick manages to deliver confident, breathy falsettos over the acid-washed fragments, mostly double-tracking rich harmonies and peddling parallel melodies over a bright string section loop that’s but one-note-long — his much-discussed cohort Washed Out executes this to similar (but not exact) effect on his Life of Leisure 12-inch. The samples that were layered for Causers‘ opener “Blessa” and subsequent”Minors” make for a rich and expansive listening experience, but they sound as if pulled from a miraculously limited range of stuff (it’s not as if the patchwork at the songs’ core is massively diverse in origin). Bundick’s focused bass grooves and deliriously sun-strewn vocals expose the two as simply great songs, however, that are accented to the highest order by a delicate mixing hand and an urge to blur the framework beyond recognition.
Pronounced experimentalism is one of the more appealing properties of Bundick’s record, while those most tolerant of tepid, early ’80s tones will find certain segments easier to swallow than the rest of us. Bundick doesn’t shy away from what appears to be an affinity for embarrassingly waxy synths on the title track and on “Low Shoulder”, but the vocals and pulsing undercurrent are reason enough to revisit the latter, providing you can overlook the Genesis drum rolls and gloopy keyboard brass solos. “Thanks Vision”, like the majority of Bundick’s broad-reaching debut album, is win-win, on the other hand. It’s blanketed in wonderfully glassy textures that eventually mirror the original problem with cassette tapes. Aside from its deft blending of introspective lyrics, abundance of echo effects, and mild, trickling psychedelia, Bundick’s production on “Thanks Vision” apes the watery in-and-out punch that spoiled audio cassette playback for the albums that you reached for too often in 1985. The tape was worn and weathered, and the sound sputtered and spat, with chunks of the songs dropping out at every half second. It never really stopped you from listening again, though — and minus the technical limits of cheap plastic and magnetically sealed ribbon, Causers of This will likely have the same effect.