Toro y Moi

Underneath the Pine

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    8
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Toro y Moi's debut record, Causers of This, fit firmly in the newly formed chillwave tradition. Chaz Bundick (the sole member of the group) created a sound that was hazy, lazy, and submerged with lots of peaceful melody and an easygoing late-night warmth and charm. On the follow-up, Bundick could have done more of the same and it would have been just fine, thanks to his way with a melody and the invention he put into the lo-fi arrangements. Instead, Underneath the Pine takes some of the chill out of the wave and strips away much of the murk. The resulting record is a shiny, dreamy affair that retains all the hooks and feel of the first album but adds some energy and pop immediacy. The biggest change, apart from the more focused production, is that in between albums Bundick seems to have (mostly) forsaken his shoegaze fetish and discovered Stereolab and their take on space age bachelor pad music. Many of the songs on Underneath have the chiming guitars, blocky organ parts, squiggly synths, and robotic rhythms, as well as the tight and looping vocal harmonies, that Stereolab patented. Bundick adds some soft rock chord changes to the mix, and the resulting sound -- while highly reminiscent of the Lab -- actually ends up sounding quite unique. The real piano (or a reasonable imitation of one) that pops up now and then is a nice touch that distances Underneath from the chillwave aesthetic. The unabashedly fun dance tracks on the album are also a leap forward. While Causers’ "Low Shoulder" was danceable enough, “New Beat” and “Still Sound” leap feet-first onto the dancefloor with steady rocking beats, pumping basslines, and sensually delivered vocals. The keyboards on both tracks are kind of magical too; the shimmering piano runs on "Still Sound" and the cheesy but super-funky synth on "New Beat" are perfect. Based on these songs, Bundick could easily slip out of this whole chillwave thing and become a disco hero. Within the context of the album, though, they provide a boost of energy and fun that makes the record really pop. Underneath the Pine is an improvement in every way on Causers of This, and it should be the start of a long and interesting run of records by Bundick and Toro y Moi.

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