Toro y Moi: “Causers of This”

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February 8, 2010

10:57 AM

It wasn’t long ago that I’d spend my lazy summer afternoons running around grass fields and watching clouds drift across blue skies. I’d lie beside loved ones and stretch my arms toward the heavens, tracing my fingers along the edges of clouds and imprinting my own designs onto the endless canvas above me.

As I get older, memories like these drift further and further away from my present self. Time carries them to the dusty corners of my mind, where they become distant, distorted, and dreamlike. That’s the funny thing about my memories. They bridge the gap between reality and dreams, imprinting my life with a touch of the surreal.

Perhaps that’s what I find so compelling about Toro y Moi’s debut album, “Causers of This.” The album plays out like a nostalgic soundtrack to sun-baked summer afternoons, forgotten journal entries, and faded collections of Polaroids. Its flickering beats, looped samples, and walls of processed vocals sweep me aboard the clouds I traced when I was younger and carry me to moments that have been preserved within my memory.

Toro y Moi is the one-man glo-fi project of Chazwick Bundick. On “Causers of This,” he weaves together downtempo synthpop beats, swelling synthesizers, and chopped samples into lush, dreamlike arrangements. Each of the album’s songs feels like it has captured a particular memory or a single sensation from a preserved moment in time.

Bundick’s lyrics, often disjointed streams of consciousness, unfold like entries from a forgotten diary. With a nostalgic fondness for the past, his songs tell the stories of lost loved ones, former best friends, and ex-girlfriends. At the same time, his flimsy vocals convey the fragility of our distant memories — the nagging melancholy we feel when we realize they can never truly be relived. The turbulent currents of time have swept these moments away from me — or maybe I’ve been swept away from them, having grown into an entirely different person since the days when I was a boy who stared at the sky.

The songs of Toro y Moi are distorted, ambient, and dreamlike. Bundick’s nostalgic lyrics have been heavily processed, transformed into a swirl of sound by electronic reverb and delay effects. Within intricate synthpop arrangements, his vocals pan from speaker to speaker alongside crunchy hip-hop claps and lurching drum patterns. The distant timbre of Bundick’s voice easily fades into the album’s elaborate mesh of sounds and genres. His vocals are sampled and chopped into rhythmic slices, while simultaneously stretched and looped into an atmospheric sound that envelops the rest of the album. His voice is pressed through filters, squealing and convulsing as it emerges as a wall of ambient noise. Alongside equally processed drum loops, the album’s lyrics flicker past my ears in the same way that elusive memories flicker through my mind.

Although “Causers of This” is musically lush, it lacks any substance of its own. Toro y Moi’s sonic voyages into nostalgia could just as easily be background music for acid-dropping partygoers. The album’s warped vocals fade in and out of aimlessly blended samples and loops, often feeling like a drug-fueled spin of a radio dial.

Bundick draws from countless genres as he weaves through whatever musical influences make his tracks sound the most sublimely chill, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I can’t help but bob my head to his laid-back psychedelic beats. However, by the time the final tracks of the album settle into a fusion of danceable synthpop, driving house beats, and funky bass grooves, I am no longer riding clouds around my memories, but instead being swept away to a premeditated surreality where my yearning for the past is replaced by formless elevator music for a new decade of detachment.

But who says an album needs to possess a prepackaged meaning of its own? The beauty of “Causers of This” is that its substance is derived almost entirely from the listener. It’s not that the album asks nothing of me, but instead that it allows me to decide how much of myself I want to pull from its choppy sonic waves.

Sure, it’s possible for me to impress myself onto any kind of music, but something about Toro y Moi’s shifty and dreamlike arrangements, their pure facelessness and aimlessness, draw me into my own personal realm of nostalgia and memory. “Causers of This” may be pleasant background music for some, but for me, it’s a nostalgic ride aboard the clouds I watched when I was a kid.

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