Of all the people you will meet who have issues with ’80s music, perhaps no one can top The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. “At least in dying you don’t have to deal with new wave for a second time,” he sings in “Multitude Of Casualties”, and I can’t help but hope Mr. Finn doesn’t catch wind of this glo-fi/chillwave movement that has produced some of the best records of the last year. Columbia, South Carolina’s Toro Y Moi, the recording name of Chaz Bundick, adds the newest entry into this soon-to-be-despised-by-hipsters genre, but has it come out three months too late? Have we already moved on to something else, like locusts consuming everything we see until there is no music left to backlash? Well, there is a contingent of people who scoff at these labels and genres (usually named by artists or writers) because they see everything as a passing fad. These people are assholes. It probably would be better to lock yourself in your room and listen to old Clash records, because everything out here in reality will continue to evolve and change and yes, trendy sounds will change too. The real question to ask is does Toro Y Moi really add anything to the music landscape, or is it just derivative of tunes most of its listeners are too young to be familiar with? The answer is a resounding kinda.
The problem I imagine someone like Craig Finn has against sounds of the ’80s and especially against reviving these sounds (unfortunately I don’t know the dude and I truly apologize for speaking for him, maybe he’s a huge Pet Shop Boys nut) is how soft the sounds were. Taking something like rock that was built on testosterone and making it something you could dance to is sacrilegious to someone like this. And though it is a little misogynistic, it does relegate Toro Y Moi to certain times and places. In fact, I can’t think of a record in recent memory that has polarized me as much as Causers Of This. So much so that last night I listened to it while writing and was leaning toward giving it a negative review. Then I was listening to it while in rainy traffic today and thought it was just about the best thing in the world. It is inherently moody music, with each song not really existing as separate, but as this continuous number where life doesn’t quite sting as badly as it should. It also seems like good music to hear if you were really high on drugs.
The opening number “Blessa” doesn’t just evoke ’80s pop and R&B, but also will bring to mind more recent acts like Atlas Sound and Animal Collective. The melody is infectious, the beats sloppy fun, and the song anything but predictable. But, where most danceable electronic would break “Blessa” open, the track trudges along, and its changes aren’t necessarily builds, just directional shifts. The album begins with two similar tracks in “Blessa” and “Minors”, but these two songs have little to do with the album as a whole, and where it gets good is about halfway though “Imprint After”, the third track. This track showcases the vocal limits of Bundick, his falsetto proving to be less Passion Pit, more Wing. But, it’s charming as hell and easy to imagine with a wink, though that would be too easy. No, this music isn’t a gag, and you are about to go for a weird trip of dreamy awakening. There will be almost comically funky bass, the glitchiest beats imaginable and melodies written solely for baby making. The first time I listened to “Fax Shadow”, I literally checked my speakers to see if the cables were loose.
As a proponent of lo-fi recording, I think this technique creates much more interesting electronic music than the majority of the club-worthy tracks you hear. Through it, Toro Y Moi relates to its predecessors, even as far back to the sun-drenched pop of The Beach Boys. The nostalgia is more than an idea on Causers Of This. “You Hid” and “Freak Love” go beyond imitation to re-creation. And, really every new band that comes out is merely standing on the shoulders of those before them, so can we really blame Toro Y Moi for lumping a few favorites together? And though “Low Shoulder” goes too far and flirts with bad taste (coincidentally, it is also the best dance track on the album), the general low-key nature of Toro Y Moi surpasses Neon Indian and Memory Tapes handily. Perhaps the chillest of the chillwave?
Well, yes the chillest. Also the least impressive, if only because it was released last and didn’t blow the others out of the water. And the world is big enough for even a few more artists like this, but trying to lump Dan Deacon and Passion Pit and every other artist who uses synths into the same group is trying to over-simplify and draw connections where they simply don’t exist. (In my research, I found a blogger out there who is actually mapping out the sub-genres of glo-fi).
Craig Finn claims to have “already survived the ’80s one time,” but the thing about glo-fi music is how essentially harmless it is. Maybe that’s what living in a post-Animal Collective society is like. When the mainstream can embrace music like that, everything else seems low stakes. But even though Toro Y Moi’s album sounds safe enough, safe and comforting is what you need while nursing a hangover or driving in the rain. So for times when I need that bit of sunshine on a cold day, I have Causers Of This in my record collection. Well, that and “Fax Shadow” makes me feel like I am having a stroke in an awesome, awesome way.