This quickfire follow up to Causers Of This, Toro y Moi’s promising debut from last year, was actually intended to be released simultaneously, as if it were the second half of an old fashioned double album. Where Chaz Bundick (who hails from South Carolina) used plenty of electronics on Causers Of This, that elements is scaled right back here in favour of purely live instrumentation, although plenty of fuzzy, burbling synthesisers help create Bundick’s brilliantly conceived aquatic sound.
Bundick’s music still comes bathed in a dreamy haze, and some of this sounds like he has absorbed some of the ’70s and ’80s FM rock acts that have also informed Ariel Pink. The instrumental Divina vaguely resembles 10cc or Todd Rundgren. Where once this might have been so deeply unfashionable as to kill a career before it had even left the ground, it is now all the rage. Were it all purely ironic, it would be a dismal failure but, like Ariel Pink, Bundick really cares about sound and texture. The reduction of this detailed, evocative music to the term ‘chillwave’ risks rather missing the point. It certainly has a laconic mood, but it’s far from being relaxation music.
In fact, much of Underneath The Pine seems to find Bundick exploring his disco side. Beneath the rippling synthesisers, there is some weirdly angular funk, particularly on Still Sound and the delightful New Beat. The bass lines play as important a role as the keyboard textures here. If not the clipped staccato rhythms of disco, then Bundick is equally at home with the forward motion of New Wave. The closing Elsie is a fine example of his skill in this era, combining a memorable chorus with insistent drums and a plethora of otherworldly sounds and effects.
It is of course Bundick’s rather untutored singing that marks Toro y Moi out as an alternative act, rather than something destined for mainstream crossover. Mostly, his voice drifts above the rhythms of the music, in a half pitched, perhaps slightly uncertain manner. This may well be intentional – it gives the music a sense of vulnerability and melancholy that undercuts the celebratory impetus of music of the music. Perhaps, though, Bundick is more at home on the more mid-tempo pieces. It is of course possible that Bundick might enjoy the same slow burning success recently experienced by the likes of Animal Collective but, on the whole, his songs are considerably more reticent.
The warm glow of nostalgia is everywhere here, and critics of the whole ‘chillwave’ or ‘hypnagogic’ approaches will find plenty of easy targets. Yet there can be little doubt that Bundick is clear in his aims with Toro y Moi, and his realisation of this sound – all fuzzy at the edges but crisp, clear, eerie and perhaps even a little cold at the centre – is without doubt successful.