Apart from the deification of Ariel Pink, the only thing music fans agreed on re: chillwave was Toro y Moi. Chaz Bundick’s one-man pop project was granted reprieve from the backlash that swallowed the likes of Real Estate and left Memory Tapes a distant, uh, memory. It’s a rare case of the blogosphere letting the cream rise: Toro y Moi’s Causers of This was an album more concerned with atmosphere and production quirks than sounding like the beach in 1987, and all signs pointed towards Bundick being more than just a flash across the hypertext.
So that brings us to Underneath the Pine, Toro y Moi’s second album, and first recorded with a full band. Eschewing the samples that formed the backbone of Casuers of This, Underneath relies instead on watery soul, funk and electronica, forming a more organic sounding, and ultimately more rewarding, album. The main thing we learn here is that Bundick has been sitting on some hooks; he’s always insisted that his music isn’t “Chillwave,” it’s “pop,” and he certainly has a point here.
After a mostly ambient intro, the hits come fast and quick. “New Beat” is an AM gold sound single of multiple brain-burying hooks and a tender confidence. “Got Blinded” is a garage rock ditty with romantic, big swoops, and “How I Know” sounds like the opening music for a 1970s sitcom that blended “serious” drama and comedy. But the album’s centerpiece is lead single “Still Sound,” a positively funky bouncer that positions Toro y Moi as the long-lost sons of disco rock, like they stepped into a time machine in 1978 and walked out this month with a perfect single.
Underneath the Pine, like Causers before it, is slightly padded, with ambient passages helping bump this past the 35-minute mark. With the exception of the piano-heavy and excellent “Divina,” most of the wordless stuff comes off like Stereolab covers that were degraded by years of water damage. That doesn’t diminish Underneath the Pine, a good step forward for the band and chillwave as a genre. But this much is clear: The battle to crown the princes of chillwave has been won, handily, by Toro y Moi.
Chaz Bundick opted to turn Toro y Moi into his latest project following the attention he received for a few singles in the chillwave realm. His debut, Causers of This, received favorable reviews from critics and opened up the door for a number of tours and festival stages throughout 2010. Though he ran into some issues on the road, such as being robbed, Bundick persisted and would go on to record his follow-up, Underneath The Pine. He's noted that it will be a much more festival-friendly piece, perhaps inferring that its 11 tracks have ditched the relaxed sounds of Causers of This for something a bit more dance-friendly.