The Toro Y Moi debut, Causers of This, was one of the best albums of 2010, and a benchmark moment in the movement that has come to be known as Chillwave.
On that record, Chaz Bundick, the DJ and multi-instrumentalist behind the moniker, set himself apart from compatriots like Neon Indian and Washed Out with his insane DJ skills, huge, almost nausea-inducing fader moves and a dexterity that made it sound as if you were listening to three songs at the same time, masterfully intertwined.
The big change on his new full-length, Underneath the Pine, is that Bundick has completely abandoned the sample-based, machine-locked grooves he mastered, for subtle, shifting rhythms and hand-played, not just held down, keys. His use of funk and R&B, hinted at on Causers, is explicit here.
On songs like â€œNew Beat,â€ Bundick pays tribute to a certain, slightly cheesy strain of 80’s disco, complete with squawking synth lines a la Evelyn â€œChampagneâ€ Kingâ€™s classic â€œIâ€™m In Love.â€ But thereâ€™s plenty of abstract noodling to make sure you know this isnâ€™t just catchy dance music. Elsewhere there are obscure references to â€œThe Odd Couple Theme Songâ€ on â€œGo With Youâ€ and Pretzel Logic-era Steely Dan. â€œDivinaâ€ also recalls that important touchstone for so many artists, the first Bowie/Eno collaboration, Low.
Whatâ€™s most impressive is that despite trading in the turntables for an analog approach, this still sounds like a Toro Y Moi record. The toolkit has changed, but the deadpan vocals, surprising bursts of melody, askew sensibility and superior taste levels have remained the same.
Itâ€™s hard to top a breakthrough debut. Wisely, Bundick doesnâ€™t try. Underneath the Pine doesnâ€™t have the same consistency and tight focus of his first full-length and Bundick’s songwriting skills are only beginning to emerge out of the Glo-Fi haze. At times, he bails on his tunes midway through and coasts on atmospherics. But this is still an extremely compelling piece of work from an artist who is pushing himself and his listeners.