I can remember exactly who I was in the heyday of chillwave: a newly come-of-age teenager who was starting to shed his indie kid demeanour and begin exploring the vast ocean of electronic music.
Washed Out’s ‘Feel It All Around’ soundtracked what felt like a never-ending school summer holidays, later dubbed as the 2009 summer of chillwave; filled with rose-tinted disposable camera photographs, faux pas heartbreak with a tinge of teenage angst, and misguided youthful drinking abroad on the beach.
The music provided the perfect soundtrack to that time of my adulthood. With endless references to summer and san, chillwave was emotive and nostalgic, yet intrinsically backwards-gazing, rooted in escapism; a sensible reaction from the youth staring into the abyss of the 2007 financial crisis. Chillwave was recession-proof, budget, almost DIY, but most importantly danceable and dance floor-ready.
One of the first millennial genres, Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi, was seen as the Godfather of the movement. A lo-fi solo bedroom producer, birthed on the trendy internet scenes of early blogosphere culture and laptop-centric Myspace, leading the generational retreat towards dreamy retro pop and obsessions with cultural memory and nostalgia they never really experienced.
Little did I know back then, that tracks like Toro y Moi’s ‘So Many Details’ and Neon Indian’s ‘Polish Girl’ – would lead me to an appreciation of Italo, the discovery of Boards of Canada and my crate-digging obsession with rare disco cuts.
It’s Toro y Moi who has also made this realisation in his latest offering, Outer Peace – a mid-life album that acts as a homage and recognition of genres and styles that formulated his early years – while sternly forward-looking at the tastemakers and chillwave equivalent heavyweights of today’s internet music landscape.
The album opens with ‘Fading’, a techno-inspired drum beat that is broken with a dolphin-esque vocal loop – lifted straight from a Diplo collaboration, with Chaz on the vocals transforming into a sound resembling new Friendly Fires material. ‘Ordinary Pleasure’ is one of Toro’s best releases to date and a standout track on the LP, a nu-disco banger, funk-laden with synth grooves and sampled bongo percussion. The lyrics: “Does sex even sell anymore” and: “I feel like I’ve seen it all/ Or maybe I’m just old/ Or maybe I’m just bored” encapsulates a generational fad of contemporary culture – layered with Beach Boys-esque backing vocals. ‘Laws of Universe’ pays homage to the sound of the Canadian Rivera and labels such as Mood Hut and 1080p, with a synth-riff almost sampled from Project Pablo’s ‘Closer’.
Songs such as ‘Miss Me’, allow Chaz to shine through as a downtempo producer, while the vocals by Abra sound like a darker Little Dragon. Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘New House’, ‘Monte Carlo’, ‘50-50’, and even ‘Baby Drive It Down’ see Bundick pulling off a trap cadence, matching a flow and originality to some of America’s best rappers. Embracing the auto-tune vocoder, Toro y Moi makes the hip-hop spectrum of the album idiosyncratic to him, without sounding like an imitation or cheap respect.
‘Freelance’, the lead single on the LP, is a warped disco-house mixed bag, that is reflective of a sound often heard in clubs and enriched in club culture across Europe – where the sonic seeps of Todd Terje and underground Norwegian dance can be heard leaking through. Lyrically, Bundick is a beacon for all graphic designers and creatives alike across the earth: “Nothing’s ever worse than work unnoticed”, while the in-arched guitar-synth lock sounds like early Metronomy. In ‘Who Am I’, Toro y Moi uses a high-pitched take on his own voice, almost sounding like a fake-girl tenor found in old-school house anthems.
Toro y Moi has successfully made an album where all his musical roosters come back home to hatch: “Imitation always gets a bad rap, man,”- he sings with swag. You can still hear the faint echoes of Bundick’s chillwave and its legacy today, from the resurgence of disco as a serious genre, to releases on Rhythm Section International and artists such as Ross From Friends and Mall Grab playing the retro-tinged sounds of lo-fi house in clubs across the world.