Toro Y Moi

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Toro Y Moi
Underneath The Pine
(Carpark Records)

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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 “New Beat,” Bundick pays tribute to a certain, slightly cheesy strain of 80’s disco, complete with squawking synth lines a la Evelyn “Champagne” King’s classic “I’m In Love.” But there’s plenty of abstract noodling to make sure you know this isn’t just catchy dance music. Elsewhere there are obscure references to “The Odd Couple Theme Song” on “Go With You” and Pretzel Logic-era Steely Dan. “Divina” also recalls that important touchstone for so many artists, the first Bowie/Eno collaboration, Low.

What’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.

It’s hard to top a breakthrough debut. Wisely, Bundick doesn’t try. Underneath the Pine doesn’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.

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