Toro Y Moi is the alter ego of 23-year-old Chaz Bundick, who hails from Columbia, South Carolina. Causers of This is his debut album, although Toro Y Moi has existed as a bedroom project for ten years. It's chillwave in the vein of Neon Indian, and on paper at least both Bundick and Neon Indian's Adam Palomo have a lot in common. They both live in the South, they both have backgrounds in arts (Paloma studies film and Bundick studied graphic design), they are both influenced by 80s music and yet are too young to remember that decade, and they both embrace their retro/dated influences lovingly and without much irony.
Toro Y Moi offers a softer edge to Neon Indian's jagged drugginess. The music is a conglomeration of 80s R&B and new wave, 90s shoegaze, and a little Y2k hip hop. There is a sterile funkiness to Toro Y Moi that brings to mind the shoulder pads, Jheri curls, and drum machines of bands like the Time and Ready for Sheila, along with the angular hairdos and faux androgyny of the Human League and Flock of Seagulls. "Blessa," the first single, combines synth washes with a slinky keyboard groove as Bundick pines in the background "it's hard to let you in/it lets you know that I was hurt." "Minors" is dreamy synth-pop, like a computerized Slowdive. "Imprint After" is built around electric piano and Bundick's reaching falsetto.
"Lissoms" combines analog keyboards with a glitchy beat. "Fax Shadow" "Freak Love" and "Thanks Vision" go further in the glitchy direction, and lay bare Bundick's love of J Dilla. He chops up elements in the songs in the same way that Dilla chopped up samples on Donuts. "Low Shoulders" references the sounds of 80s, but gives them a healthy infusion of contemporary keyboard effects. It's all performed with sincerity, and you never get the feeling that Bundick is trading on cheap irony. As with Neon Indian, the dated sounds are tools and not punchlines.
Bundick's voice is fine when it's buried in the mix or manipulated with effects, but it's not strong enough to stand on its own, as it does on "Low Shoulders and "Causers of This." Listeners will find his voice either endearingly honest or amateurish. Either way it's not a dealbreaker, but it made me realize that there was probably a reason why Kevin Shields' voice was buried so deep on all of My Bloody Valentine's songs. Also, like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, or the Cocteau Twins' music, Causers of This is more a collection of sounds and moods than actual songs. There is an ethereal quality the music that makes easy to enjoy but difficult to grasp. After multiple listens the songs began to bleed together, becoming one continuous blur rather than eleven distinct tracks.
Causers of This melds its diverse influences into a concoction that is dreamy, filled with longing, and balances the nostalgic sounds of analog synthesizers with ideas borrowed from contemporary electronic music and instrumental hip hop. It is also further proof that there just might be legs to this whole chillwave thing. At the very least Toro Y Moi are worth listening to, and make an enjoyable soundtrack to a lazy Sunday morning.
(Photo by Bryan Bush)