September 12, 2011
Now that there's little choice but to treat chillwave as an actual genre, it's at risk of the same kind of restrictive codification that's strangled so many of its predecessors. The word has come to mean a specific style-- glowing electronic pop that calls to mind faded photographs. But what initially drew comparisons between such groups as Washed Out, Neon Indian, and Memory Tapes wasn't such an easily identifiable set of musical signifiers. As with most category names that stick, chillwave was a feeling.
There's no better example of the genre's catholic origins than Toro Y Moi mastermind Chaz Bundick. Last year's Causers of This established Toro Y Moi as one of the mini-scene's leading figures, with the post-crash economic reality of lead single "Blessa" ("I found a job, I do it fine/ Not what I want, but still I try") aligning the album with Neon Indian's "Deadbeat Summer" and Washed Out's High Times-- and Bundick's full-length debut had a warmly nostalgic electro-R&B aesthetic, to boot. But by then he had already released 2009's Body Angles tape, which, yeah, presaged Causers with synthy closer "Timed Pleasure", but mostly emphasized scuzzy guitars. And Bundick has said he actually recorded this year's garage-pop "Leave Everywhere" single in 2006. In the meantime, he's given us straight-up dance (his Les Sins project) and an album that expands on the atmospheric funk of Causers using a lusher, more organic instrumental palette (this year's Underneath the Pine).
The definition of chillwave may have to expand yet again. Memory Tapes' solid if disappointing follow-up to 2009's zeitgeist-capturing Seek Magic had more in common than with the sound of this Internet-born subset, but Bundick, along with Neon Indian and Washed Out, continues to embody its spirit, which was always more body-oriented than detractors would care to admit. With the Freaking Out EP, Bundick moves from vaguely funky 1980s-tinged makeout jams to more explicitly funky 80s-tinged dancefloor jams-- think Chromeo. The change isn't as successful as his best work, but it still makes for a plenty rewarding between-albums EP.
Advance mp3 "Saturday Love"-- a cover of a 1985 Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production for R&B singers Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal-- is the highlight here, with its sweetly catchy days-of-the-week hook, tinkling two-finger piano, and thwacking neo-new jack swing drum programming. Yearning, bass-limber opener "All Alone" and finger-snapping dance finale "I Can Get Love" even share the strobe-like keyboards present on much of Causers-- the last song has that post-Dilla crackle, too. And "Sweet" applies the chopped up vocals and hazy incandescence of that album to further 80s-style R&B. "Take it easy," Bundick soothes on the title track, another uptempo floor-filler. "Don't worry anymore... Calm down." I mean, how much more chillwave can you get, right?