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.