Chazwick Bundick's second album as Toro Y Moi, Underneath the Pine, the looping electronic chillwave styling takes on a broader sound loaded with influences that all point to a calm, hopeful world where nature, disco, funk and laid-back noise rock collide. There's even some classic motown chord progressions and constructions in there that manifest like a mellow Jackson 5, as if musically we are all sitting in a low-lit bar letting the songs wash over us as dances with without dancers. The beauty in Underneath the Pine lies in the sweet, pop-aware tracks that seem to combine Cut Copy and Beach House, forming a dreamy experience that still makes you want to move. It's a unique sound that seems familiar too. And that sense of familiarity will either make this foray an instant favorite or a instant dislike, though I tend to think most people will side with the former option. The sound is lush and full and the vocals whispery, echoing and fluid. This is an album designed for chilling out and it feels good to listen to. Call it a sonic painkiller. Or perhaps the musical equivalent of soma from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
The first track, fittingly titled "Intro/Chi Chi" is like a door opening followed by a rush of wind that swallows the listener, and at the same time ushers you in. And there's no better place to be ushered into than the funky second track "New Beat," a song that is not at all new as it claims. The beats here are perfectly assembled but entirely reminiscent of past motown and disco fusion. The song powers along, never building to a burst, but ending on crunchy talk-sung lyrics. The next track "Go With You" is a solid and catchy love ballad. But it's the pacing and structure of the album that becomes most impressive as the next two songs, first the short instrumental "Divina" dazzles with beautiful piano and delicate notes across the keys, and second with the cool, heartfelt and most Beach House-y "Before I'm Done." In fact, "Before I'm Done" feels a bit like peak-era Elliot Smith as much as it does anything else, largely because the guitar work is so precise, but still feels nonchalant and lazy (in a great way) and because Bundick's voice has that soft, falsetto pained quality that seems to simply let the words roll out as they may.
We see a quickening of pace in the excellent, crying "Got Blinded," a song with a melody that grabs you immediately. It's a song with a quick beat and slow, echoing lyrics. The bass line is brilliant and the touches of synthesizer fill out the song until it feels like you're speeding through a dream, careless and content. "How I Know" follows, redeemed by direct and sweet lyrics about love and confusion and some more great synthesizer work. The song as a whole isn't as beautifully driving as some that have preceded it, but it still works, if only as a bit of a letdown. "Light Black" opens with haunting crunch and rattling cymbals and then turns into a sort of hybrid of "Blue Jay Way" and "Within You Without You" by the Beatles. The influence is clearest here and that's by no means a dig. There are only so many ways to arranges notes and chords. And Toro Y Moi succeeds greatly by infusing a strong, funky drum line to back up the song's break down. There are even some looped howls and screams that fill it out as it grows from infancy to adulthood before our ears.
"Still Sound" takes a more conventional funk route, returning to the Cut Copy area bounding, sweet swaying bass-driven ballads. Following "Light Black" (the album's best track) this feels like a welcome return to normalcy and it is so beautifully done that it cannot be denied, especially as the keyboard work dances up and down the scale with a battery of strong drums behind it. "Good Hold" brings back the haunting feel, with heavy minor keys played slowly on piano as it leads in. Soon when drums and vocals appear, the song feels less dark and more sad. The closer "Elise" is just about perfect too, riding the excellent wave that completes the album. It is both bounding and sincere. Driving behind pummeling keys, guitar flourishes, crashing cymbals and more bass. It is the most conventionally rock-like song on the album, showing a lot of promise and calling back to simpler times in songwriting. Underneath the Pine is a strong album that closes on a rush of excellent songs. It feels alive, inventive and lush through and through, too. Check it out. You can stream it through Some Kind of Awesome right here. No excuses. Chill out and enjoy.
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