On January 4, 2010 Chaz Bundick a.k.a. Toro y Moi released a thirty-three minute album called Causers of This. It wasn’t an overnight sleeper hit, it didn’t chart, there was no thought provoking, theatrical concept behind it, it didn’t pop up on every magazine’s “Best of 2010” list, or anything like that. It’s immediate legacy is really rather nondescript. It was the small label debut of an artist who continued to grow and produce more and more music and eventually worked his way up to bigger hits and greater fame. In a lot of ways, that’s all there is to it.
But Causers of This rewrote the possibilities of South Carolina music, and ultimately changed people’s lives because of that.
It isn’t much of a statement to say that The Palmetto State does not have the deepest or most populated musical history. Plenty of great artists have been born in South Carolina (Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown, Eartha Kitt, among others) but the state has never done much to put emphasis on its musical past. The acts that are most closely associated with the state are the ones that get brought up on repeat: Hootie & The Blowfish, The Marshall Tucker Band, Edwin McCain, Band of Horses, etc. There’s never been anything wrong with those bands, and they’ve all done a great deal for bringing music into their home state, but there’s no getting around the fact that the large scale identity of South Carolina music was/is relatively stagnant and skewed towards country and roots rock.
Of course plenty of people within the state have made diverse and fantastic music over the years; that’s what this website is all about. But in 2009 and before, when it came to what was widely broadcast from here, it was all on the same wavelength.
Enter Causers of This.
On a national stage, in walks a strange but accessible little electronic pop album by a soft-spoken kid who had been born, raised, and schooled in Columbia, South Carolina. Sonically, Causers of This is a pure dreamscape all its own that can exist in just about any time or place. It sounds just as fresh in 2020 as it did in 2010. If someone wanted to slap a genre label on the album, I don’t think that they could.Sure, it’s a direct descendant of electronic music, but there’s also The Beach Boys, 80’s R&B, house music, J Dilla, and 2000’s indie rock all mixed immaculately to create Chaz Bundick’s own miniature ecosystem.
“Blessa” is a soulful, golden oldie given a makeover on a turntable. “Minors” is a synthed, youthful shout. “Causers of This” is one of the best songs that Chaka Khan never got around to making. “You Hid” is a solitary nighttime drive that was taken as a coping mechanism. Every song is set in this hazy, summery world that has its fair share of dejection, loneliness and longing. All told it’s kind of a sad album, but it doesn’t wallow in that element. Instead it sounds like the words of encouragement that you didn’t know you needed to hear in order to begin the slow climb out of sadness.
It was unlike anything to ever be associated with South Carolina and it didn’t take long for the ripple effect to kick in.
Donovan Taylor (a.k.a. Don Crescendo) is a Chicago based singer and DJ who grew up in Columbia and until a couple of years ago was based out of Charleston. “I remember my first time hearing ‘Talamak’ and it kind of stopped me, it caught me off guard. It was the first time I heard a song that sounded like what I really wanted to listen to.”
That was without the context that Bundick was also a Columbia native. It wasn’t long after that Taylor found out that Toro y Moi even went to the same high school as him. “It was cool to find out that there was somebody else from Columbia that was making the lo-fi electronic and kind of hip hop inspired music that I wanted to hear. I re-listened to Causers recently and I didn’t even realize how much it sounds like the music I put out a few years ago.”
He’s heard that same kind of sound in other South Carolina artists’ work too. “When people here in Chicago ask me what the sound of South Carolina is I tell them about the sort of dream pop things that have happened for the last few years in Charleston. It’s cool to see that common thread. I think the thing that a lot of us draw from is that feeling of being in South Carolina where it feels like home but it also feels like you’re stuck especially if you’re a social minority in any sense, and that creates this dreamy, imagined world outside of it, and that’s where that kind of psychedelic bedroom pop sound comes from where it sounds like South Carolina but also wants to be somewhere else. I think it really was a defining moment, it was an example of this shit is possible for me too.”
Charleston pianist Tyler Sim has a similar story. “I actually heard Toro’s Daytrotter sessions before Causers and the recording of ‘Blessa’ on that specifically really hit me. This was when I was about thirteen and I only heard it because it was on my brother’s iTunes. But I could tell immediately that it was hitting differently. I had it on almost exclusively in eighth grade and it definitely shaped my taste.”
Sim was raised in Charleston and currently plays various gigs around the city, perhaps most notably with Contour and formerly as a member of Del Sur. Jazz has always been the overarching, natural force behind Sim’s style and overall influence, but for his own development he groups Bundick in with that echelon of musical figures.
“Causers sort of fit into everything. It was what I wanted to hear and what I needed to hear. It’s naturally sunny music but the whole sonic palette is sad, nostalgic, it all made sense. All I had listened to beforehand was super well produced, crystal clear and kind of predictable. It sounded unique and individual to the person making it and it opened me to grittier sounds. To see someone who has an infinite number of inspirations and is able to incorporate them all so well was mind boggling. It expands your overall scope. It’s like how sampling introduces people to jazz and soul music. I remember when I read about the album that he had used the software Reason to record it, I immediately downloaded Reason. I immediately set out to do something like that.”
“He was also the first person that I really started to follow as a personality that I looked up to,” Sim says. “It may not be the most significant part but he was inspirational to me at the time partly because he was a half-Asian man making music in South Carolina. And not just music but cool music that I really enjoyed. Not that I’m visibly presenting as a half-Asian person, but it was big to realize that there are other half-Asian people in South Carolina who were doing cool, creative things. It was good to know that there was a possibility to put yourself out there like that. Maybe not necessarily for someone like me but for someone who is more or less similar.”
Those are just the stories of two individuals who had deeply impacted by the album and Toro y Moi in general, but you don’t necessarily need anecdotes to see how Bundick changed things in South Carolina music. Of course Causers may not be immediately responsible for inspiring the foundation of new venues, new styles of independent music, or giving people the creative push that they needed to become artists, but it was a part of some kind of spark.
I was in high school when I first heard Causers and personally I can relate a lot to Taylor and Sim’s points. Not as a musician, but as a native South Carolinian who didn’t know that things like Causers of This were possible in my state. In a lot of ways, Toro y Moi is why I started wanting to cover South Carolina music because I realized that these things were happening, Causers was just my exposure to it.
There’s also no album that takes me to a specific place and time quite like this. When I hear it I’m at Folly Beach after a high school final exam. I’m at King Dusko on King St. admiring what people are wearing and wishing that I was capable of growing a beard like the older guys there. I’m alone in my room, I’m sixteen years old and I’m terrified and uncertain of just about everything I could be terrified and uncertain of. Though I don’t really feel alone because the guy making the ethereal sounds on the other end of my headphones sounds lonely too, but he’s embracing it and teaching me how to embrace it too.
For me, Causers of This (and Toro y Moi in general) was my foray into individuality and part of what makes me happy to be from South Carolina. I’m truly thankful to have had it with me through the last decade. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone in those words.