Toro Y Moi - Underneath the Pine - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Toro Y Moi - Underneath the Pine

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2011-02-21

What a fantastic 12 months it's been for the wonderfully named Chaz Bundick, aka Toro Y Moi. From cool-as-fuck blog buzz to breakout star via one of the best debut albums in recent memory, 2010 lysergic, lovelorn Causers of This. For better or worse (and, to be fair, Bundick seems to have no problem with it), that album's mix of hip hop, 80s MOR and trippy soundscapes defined the newly-coined genre of chillwave. No artist, however, likes to be pigeon-holed on their first outing, and this might go some way to explaining the subtle but distinct shifting of gears which can be immediately sensed on album number two.

Some influences on Underneath the Pine: the dreamy space-pop of early Air, the cosmic jazz of Sun Ra, the mutant disco of Arthur Russell and fluttery, soft-focus music of obscure soundtrack albums (I'm willing to bet good money that Bundick has an extensive collection). The big change sonically is that, whereas Causers of This was made on a laptop, built with samples and synths, Underneath the Pine was largely recorded with live instrumentation, as the delicate acoustic picking of 'Before I'm Done' or the big pop moments of 'New Beat' and 'Still Sound' demonstrate.

In terms of mood, there's also something new: where Bundick spent his first album pining for lost love, his vocals swaddled from vulnerability by effects and distortion, now his fey, willowy voice hovers clear and bright above the music. The lyrics, where decipherable, seem more positive too: "I don't know/ how we're going to get out/ but I'm not scared," he coos on 'Go with You', while on 'Still Sound' he sings "I don't want to be alone," in a way which is direct and affecting before a blizzard of scatter-shot keyboard sounds descend.

The portentous organ drones which open 'Intro/Chi Chi' provide a sense of occasion before evolving into a mix of white noise, ambient jazz instrumentation and Bundick's trademark ethereal vocals floating over a balmy groove. It's a brief track which neatly introduces the album's main musical tropes. From here, we dive straight into the genius, joyful pop-funk of 'New Beat', on which Bundick demonstrates a melodic skill he only hinted at on Causers of This. 'Go with You' continues the loose-limbed, groovy vibe before the instrumental 'Divina' slows everything down. A fragile, trembling slice of library music, it sounds like it could be cribbed from one of the legendary 70s soft-core Emmanuelle films or bonkers 1977 Japanese horror flick Hausu. Either way, it's a brave and slightly crazy piece of music for a guy as cool as Bundick to put out.

Admittedly, the album drags a little in the middle; 'Before I'm Done' and 'Got Blinded' are both a little too mid-paced and, while very pretty, lack hooks. In fact, the album doesn't really pick up again until 'Light Black', which sounds like some kind of hybrid of 70s cosmic funk and the Knight Rider theme. Which is, obviously, awesome. This is followed by 'Still Sound', the album's highlight. A fantastically self-assured, strutting pop song, full of wispy harmonies like a celestial Jackson 5, it shows Bundick can bring real focus and clarity to his work when he wants to. Here, the winding groove works perfectly and everything snaps back together when the excellent funk bassline come back in. It's an extraordinary track. The album closes with two tender, slow-paced numbers, 'Good Hold' and 'Elise', the latter drifting off towards the horizon with a spacey extended coda.

Interviewed last week in The Guardian Guide, Bundick revealed he's "always worried I'm not going to get all my ideas out of my head before I die". Perhaps this explains the slightly messy feel of Underneath the Pine. It feels more like a scrapbook of variations on a theme than a unified album, but there's no question that it is the work of an artist who demands our attention. If you loved Toro Y Moi's first album for the song-craft as much as the shimmering sampledelica than you will also love this. Bundick's next artistic mission should be to unite the strengths of both albums in a third work.

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