For this “catching up,” we are keeping it American, specifically southern. Both albums originally flew right under my radar when they initially were released, but thanks to cranky friends, who love to give me their two cents on what I should be writing about (keep the advice coming!), I discovered two albums that have really gotten under my skin in a good way. Let me say upfront that what I really like about both albums is that they are not “stereotypes” of what can be done electronically. From abrasive sounds to subtle introspection, both albums are provocative and demonstrate excellent craftsmanship. I hope you enjoy them both as much as I am.
Toro y Moi: “Causers of This”
Electropop/sythnpop has slowly been making a comeback over the past few years; both with mainstream and underground/indie artists, there has definitely been an attraction to returning to electronic convention, while rejecting the 90s mentality of “if it’s real music, you can play it acoustically” – which is bullshit, of course. Nevertheless, it would seem that this 80s revival of sorts, which is bringing back electropop/synthpop, has almost outlasted the 80s itself, with no sign of ending anytime soon. There are two kinds of artists in this revival, the first of which are those that are reproducing the 80s sound completely. It is almost as if I am in a time warp at times, reliving my middle and high school days, and I have to admit that I am enjoying the ride. Then there is the second group of artists that are employing synths, taken cues from the 80s, but doing something different. And that is where Toro y Moi falls. The name of the band is the moniker employed by Chazwick Bundick, who hails from South Carolina, USA and just recently released his debut album, “Causers of This” (4 January 2010). This is not just generic synthpop, as there is a heavy dose of downtempo here. This album is chill, relaxing, and mesmerizing, as it fluidly flows from one track to the next, taking you on a listening journey of ever shifting moods and textures.
After discovering this album after release I made the mistake of reading up a little on it! I got all tangled up on all these new genres: it is glo-fi? Is it chillwave? Is it hypnagogic pop? I am thinking I may start to invent a few “labels” to see if they catch on, but I am going to play this game. Glo-fi, usually referred to as chillwave, has its roots in the USA’s west coast last summer. Other than an allusion of bringing cocaine back, the best way to really define this movement within synthpop is that the inevitable has happened: synthpop has finally merged with shoegaze, mixed up with a few other things like downtempo and world music for its variant beats. In this context, Bundick is not just a musician, but also one of the pioneers of a new genre. Though not part of the original explosion of music associated with last summer, “Causers of This” definitely carries on this new tradition, while adding to it.
The album opens with “Blessa,” which made me immediately think: “Is this what My Bloody Valentine would sound like if they were an electronic band?” And this is one of the highest compliments I can pay any band! The song arrests your ears, forces you to listen to noise, and though it is not exactly what you expect in a song, it is alluring. And what you get immediately is what to expect from the album. This is not about tightly written chords, overlaid in complex arrangements – that would be too easy. This album is about manipulating sound (noise) into melody, complementing it with the occasional chord. Obviously, to enhance this effect, the album was recorded in lo-fi. Other great tracks to pay close attention to are “Imprint Forever” (sexy with a bit lounge), “Lissoms” (sensually clubby, with a lot of noise), and “Low Shoulder” (the worlds of R&B and synthpop collide).
If like me, you were not swept away with last summers “glo-fi,” “Causers of This” is going to peak your curiosity and might just start that sweeping away. Toro y Moi has created a sound-drenched, often (controlled) muddled experience that will make you sit back, take notice, and lounge. Foregoing subtly for abrasiveness, this in-your-face album is exceptional gem, no matter what you want to label it. And, like those bands in the late 80s who wanted to do nothing but make noise, this album will dismiss the trite clichés that dance music has fallen into and open up a new world of possibilities.
3. Imprint After
5. Fax Shadow
6. Thanks Vision
7. Freak Love
9. You Hid
10. Low Shoulder
11. Causers of This
12. Eden – bonus track
Keep up with Toro y Moi at MySpace or Blogspot.
Here is the video for “Blessa” from the CarparkRecords YouTube Channel.
Electric President: “The Violent Blue”
Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida USA, Electric President is an electronic indie-pop duo composed of Ben Cooper and Alex Kane. Releasing their third album, “The Violent Blue” (23 February 2010), the title immediately makes you think of an abrasive sadness, melancholia with chaos, but this is not what you get on the album. The title, at best, is ironic, as the album falls far from “violent” music or being “blue” to the point of doom and despair. Instead, this is a contemplative album that guides you through heartfelt narratives about life and love, with tongue-in-cheek and seriousness intermixed. And right from the beginning with the opening track, “The Ocean Floor,” the mood is established and, as the album continues, it unravels in a pleasantly introspective way.
Now I want to state for the record that when I say that this album is not truly blue, I am not saying that it is happy-go-lucky and cheerful. Far from it, but instead of the emotional power of this album dragging you down, it uplifts you, like the moments after long contemplation when the proverbial light bulb flickers on. Granted, some of the lyrics will leave you scratching your heard, like in the second track, “Mr. Gone,” an ode to mathematics and love. The metaphor may be a bit obscure but it totally makes sense; math like love is hard to understand, but the nugget of wisdom comes when Cooper sings, “Learn to be optimistic, avoid adverse opinions.” But if there is a song that you are going to get stuck on, it is “Feathers.” A steady, mid-tempo beat, with some beautiful strumming, sort of has that feeling of making you “float” as you listen. Think of all the post-punk bands who wrote acoustic, pop songs in the late 80s; this is that kind of song that exhibits incredible pop sensibility without the frivolity or selling out its integrity. And the song hits on that universal reality of how we sometimes become obsessed and consumed by our feelings for someone, to point of losing yourself: “Well no matter how this ends,” Cooper sings, “they’ll never be a crutch the way I am. I’d follow you down any rabbit hole. Come find me when I sleep, and tie anchors ‘round my feet.”
And though this album is not about 80s revival, the titular track, “The Violent Blue,” has that darkwave feel of great 80s electropop. Wispy, with breathy vocals, it is not till you are over halfway through the song that the beat drops and morphing the song from electropop to shoegaze. And then you get the most powerful lyrics on the album: “This blue ain’t blue, it’s velvet black. A crooked mirror sky, and we hum like stars and flicker off into the blank and void…” Chilling metaphor: eventually all is for naught, as we will cease. Closing with “All the Distant Ships,” the album ends with the same kind of introspective melancholic feel that it began with, but again giving into the indie/shoegaze influences of the band. Flirting with your ears by interplaying between electric and acoustic guitars, this is a song of epic proportion. And just like any great epic song, though the song spans close to nine minutes, it flows nicely, never dragging, holding your complete attention from beginning to end. (And of course, there is the song “Eat Shit and Die,” which used to be a phrase I could not stop saying years ago.)
It took one listen to “The Violent Blue” to make me a fan of the album. Though I am not sure it is fair to label this band electropop, or indie for that matter; Electric President is one of those few bands that are comfortable writing any kind of music they want to. They are not about being another “electronic band”; that would be too bandwagon for these guys. They are just a band that happens to employ some electronics to produce their music. It is in that ability to write anything they want, to shift textures in their music, and to flirt between the digital and the analogue, that the band derives such visceral power; it is amazing how sometimes an album can make you sit back and become introspective – full of emotions and runaway thoughts. And that is the exact reason to give into this soundscape; not to escape yourself, but to, perhaps, find yourself.
1. The Ocean Floor
2. Mr. Gone
3. Safe and Sound
5. Nightmare No. 5 or 6
6. The Violent Blue
8. Elegant Disasters
9. Eat Shit and Die
10. All the Distant Ships
Keep up with Electric President at their homepage and MySpace.
Here is their video for “The Violent Blue” from the fakefourinc YouTube Channel.