2010′s Causers of This was a decent, but not great, first release by Chaz Bundick, operating under the Toro Y Moi alias. The most common tag thrown at the album was that of the Chillwave phenomenon of 2009. It seemed that Toro Y Moi was a little late to the boat when it came to Chillwave, and it was unfortunate that his album missed the majority of the hype that surrounded this hazy, nostalgic genre. On the plus side, a couple of solid tracks, such as “Blessa” and “Lissoms” made Causers of This engaging, especially when those thick beats and dated production techniques clicked in.
In many ways, Underneath the Pine is a superior album to Bundick’s début, seeing him expand upon his sound; although this is still clearly the work of Toro Y Moi, the LP sounds far more coherent and precise. Album opener “Intro/Chi Chi” is little more than a sound-scape with some delicate vocals overlapped, but it sets the scene for what’s to come. Things start out strong with the first real track, “New Beat,” which bops along rhythmically like a disco number from the 70s. It’s incredibly nostalgic throughout, and barring better production techniques, “New Beat” would reside well within the period that Bundick is attempting to emulate. Live instruments make all the difference in Bundick’s repertoire, and his fitting, if a little blasé vocal style compliments the music well.
The vocals are improved throughout Underneath the Pine. Bundick tends to avoid over-singing, as he did through certain tracks on Causers of This, instead allowing for the music to do the talking. And this is perhaps the biggest improvement of Underneath. The variety of instruments on offer not only demonstrate a superior musician, but also a more varied one. Being inspired by disco and hip-hop, Bundick at times favours synthesisers and functional drum loops, as can be seen wonderfully in bouncy tracks such as “Go With You,” particularly near the climax of the song. “Before I’m Done” echoes with a competently plucked acoustic guitar; “Divina,” on the other hand, is a more sentimental excursion, featuring elegant bass and twinkly piano keys. Whereas Causers of This could never really be described as a beautiful album, Underneath the Pine sees Bundick succeed in capturing some beautiful instrumental passages.
The entire album breezes by at an enjoyable, easily digestible rate, aided by the variation in styles and the relative shortness of the tracks. “Still Sound” proves that the latter half of this album is just as engaging as the former with its quick-fire lyrical delivery and spaced-out synthesiser jitters and blips, and album closer “Elise” ends things on a high note: experimental, drippy and featuring more of those distant, phased-out lyrics. Although Bundick’s style hasn’t especially changed with Underneath the Pine, he’s putting a larger focus on live instrumentation and avoiding a lot of those textbook Chillwave aesthetics that somewhat plagued Causers of This. He remains an original, talented musician with his influences worn firmly on his sleeves; a contemporary proving that the past is still very much relevant.
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London-based multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood takes some time to talk briefly with Beats Per Minute about a few of his favorite records.
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