Album Review: Toro y Moi - Causers of This

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Toro y Moi - Causers of This
Toro y Moi - Causers of This (Image courtesy of Carpark Records)

As we all adjust to writing "10" instead of "09" in the date, it's both impossible and impossibly tempting to sum up the just-ended decade. The '00s, a.k.a. "the aughts" or "the noughties," were a confusing decade for independent music, fraught with the loosely-defined genre's commercialization (via The O.C., Garden State and major label interest) and its infiltration (by all kinds of mainstream and underground styles, including noise, folk, electronic dance music, hip-hop, R&B and pop).

Yet just as indie was becoming more open to new styles and synthetic sounds, the infrastructure of ground-level independent distribution—outside of major labels or mega-indies like Matador and Sub Pop—was shifting towards a more organic, grass-roots model, with new bands relying on limited-edition releases and constant touring while also catering to the growing cult of vinyl and cassettes and using the simplicity of digital self-promotion to their advantage. The result is a new, expansive universe of indie music that draws upon an improbably broad sonic and cultural palette.

This is why Toro y Moi's Causers of This isn't just the first great album of the 2010s, although it's that, too—it's also a winning, loving memorial for indie rock's many mutations throughout the last decade. Stitching together drugged post-Animal Collective atmospherics, a DIY pop sensibility, off-kilter rhythms and throbbing dance beats, Toro y Moi—the recording name of Columbia, S.C.'s Chaz Bundick—takes a confident, bold and inventive step out of the previous decade's sonic landscape and toward a whole new one.

Due out February 2 via Carpark Records on CD and vinyl but already for sale digitally, Causers of This is Toro y Moi's full-length debut following a handful of self-released gems, including EPs, limited-run cassettes and a tour-only CD-R. "Blessa," the album's opening track and first single, kicks things off with its mixture of warped beats, white noise and Bundick's soaring yet vulnerable vocals. The song's sunny textures evoke Panda Bear's Person Pitch album opener "Comfy in Nautica" at first, yet its nimble beats veer into more electronic territory, followed by a gentle instrumental coda.

"Fax Shadow" is even more dreamlike, with chopped and warped vocals that connect the dots between two of the 2000s' most important independent electronic records, The Avalanches' Since I Left You and Burial's Untrue. This sampladelic vocal manipulation creates a sense of singers struggling against a sonic riptide, until a tranquil hook—"I'm sorry I couldn't name the color of your eyes," Bundick croons—drowns the song in melancholy. The slow-motion falsetto funk of "Imprint After" is similarly sublime and, along with the title track, showcases Toro y Moi's melodic chops at their finest. "You Hid," meanwhile, sports dusty sampled drums that nearly rewind the album's sound to the '90s trip-hop of Portishead and Tricky.

Tracks like "Lissoms" and "Thanks Vision" are geared more obviously toward the dancefloor, their undulating synth lines echoing Daft Punk just as much as Animal Collective. "Talamak," with its lonely melody and convulsive electro beat, deftly straddles the clubbed-out and home-listening vibes. It's "Low Shoulders," though, that feels like a surefire summer single; it's a bracing, full-blast indie dance anthem that seems to welcome the new decade with gorgeous aplomb.

However, it's the least dance-oriented track on Causers of This, "Minors," that towers above the rest as the album's obvious masterpiece. The song's cryptic verses are whisper-sung amid a haze of synths and reverb, with Bundick intoning, "When I live in newer places/ I'll make sure I'm further from you/ 'Cause problems come two by two/ I know it's not the truth." The song's chorus is a majestic, minimal surge of sound nearly drowning out the lyrics' fragmented portrait of awestruck youth: "Is this how it is?/ There's someone to be with/ Obsessed with ideas/ That leave no one in there." Even as it crashes the speakers like a vintage My Bloody Valentine track, "Minors" still feels undeniably contemporary.

Causers of This is a radiant, genre-hopping adventure that puts Toro y Moi on the map as a major artist to watch this year. More importantly, though, it's early proof that exciting things are already afoot for music this decade.