Douglas Martin is pretty chill, bro.
Regardless of how you felt about Causers of This, nobody can convincingly deny that it was a zeitgeist-grabber. Through Chaz Bundick’s outstanding musical ear, the debut full-length of his solo project Toro y Moi added a glitzy layer of synthetic sheen to the hissy four-tracks that contemporaries Washed Out and Neon Indian layered synths on top of, with songs like “Minors” and “You Hid” being prime examples of Bundick’s production ability. Now, as chillwave starts to settle in its rightful home in Monthly Hipster Dance Night playlists and H&M fitting rooms, Bundick hires a band and makes a sharp about-face on sophomore full-length Underneath the Pine, which should let him off the hook for his debut extending the shelf life of chillwave by another full year.
The album begins with a buzzing amp and the light shaking of a tambourine, a far cry from the clipped electronic drums and computer-manipulated synths of Causers opener “Blessa”. Driven by a pair of bongos, drifting wordless vocals, and glowing keyboards, “Intro / Chi Chi” sets the tone for the psychedelic dreaminess that underscores Underneath the Pine. Jumping right into recent single “New Beat,” the full-band dynamic pays off instantly, creating a hallucinogenic disco track that’s just as much trippy as it is danceable. Jeff compared it to Dam-Funk, which is a fairly apt comparison, given both artists’ natural– maybe even preternatural– sense of rhythm. Nowhere is this better proven than on the singles (“Still Sound” and the aforementioned “New Beat”), alchemizing syncopated drumbeats, basslines buoyant with countermelody, swirling keys, and Bundick’s otherworldly melodies with a remarkable amount of precision.
Even more impressive is when Bundick and his group side-step dance music and explore other genres. The depth of his musicianship shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with his 2009 demos, as it was almost schizophrenic in its breadth. Lo-fi rock, swirling psych-folk, and a pretty straightforward cover of Beach House’s “Master of None” sat alongside what wasn’t quite being called “chillwave” yet, providing an interesting peek at Bundick’s talent.
Unlike the Toro y Moi demos, Underneath the Pine succeeds because there’s a strong thread of cohesion that runs throughout the record, regardless of the number of genres explored. After an intro is picked out on acoustic guitar(!), “Before I’m Done” recalls the quieter, more laid-back selections from Dungen’s catalog, with Bundick’s lilting, double-track vocals being eerily reminiscent of Gustav Ejstes. “Got Blinded” similarly evokes the 70’s soft-ish-rock of Midlake’s stellar 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther , with its sweet-spot-hitting harmonies and vintage synthesizers. The most striking thing about Underneath the Pine, much like the aforementioned Midlake record, is the analog warmth that beams off of all of its songs. This gives an organic quality to the dance-oriented tracks– the diametric opposite of the metallic, almost-robotic distance of Causers— and injects of sun-kissed, spring-like feeling to the rest of the songs, without doing that contrived “beachy” thing that bands over the past two years have been using as a crutch.
As the dissonant ballad “Good Hold” makes way for stunning closer “Elise,” the band seems to be at the height of their powers, creating a stirring climax for the record, built around the album’s best chorus. It’s a moment that makes you realize how much promise is capitalized upon on Underneath the Pine; a flash-in-the-pan genre spawns a genuinely talented musician who distances himself from the punchline, creating one of 2011’s best albums so far while doing so. Maybe chillwave ended up being good for something after all.
MP3: Toro y Moi-“Still Sound”