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Toro Y Moi
Underneath The Pine Ross Pounds , February 22nd, 2011 07:36

Chillwave. There, out of the way already. Chaz Bundick’s Toro Y Moi project is always going to be entwined with the now collapsing sub-genre, a passing phase unfairly ridiculed because of its close association with hipsterdom despite the fact that it produced a lot of passable work and, at its peak, a few genuinely great pop songs (Washed Out’s ‘Feel It All Around’, Neon Indian’s ‘Should Have Taken Acid With You’, and Bundick’s own ‘Blessa’ to name a few). The first Toro Y Moi album, last year’s Causers of This, was a perfectly serviceable debut, a warped concoction of Dilla-esque beats twinned with Panda Bear-like vocals and melodies lifted from the dustier reaches of Bundick’s parents’ soft-rock record collection. As one might expect, the template hasn’t shifted dramatically on Underneath the Pine. Bundick has moved the gate far enough to bat away any accusations that he might be a one-trick pony, but anyone hoping for something startling or groundbreaking is going to come away severely disappointed.

It’s obvious that Bundick is trying to move away from the image of a nerdy kid sitting at a laptop fiddling with GarageBand in his parent’s basement here. Underneath the Pine is richer, more expansive and more densely textured than its predecessor. It’s also notably smoother, trading on the same lush swathes of sound that bought Air to prominence almost a decade-and-a-half ago. It’s an album in thrall to a bygone age, one tightly constructed, designed to be played by a fully-fledged band. It’s also not particularly good.

Listening to the album is like running one’s finger aimlessly round a radio dial, one song floating listlessly into the next, akin to tuning in to a radio station dedicated solely to playing mediocre album tracks from bands in terminal decline. It’s great that Bundick loves the Beach Boys so much, that he likes the idea of his album sounding like a soundtrack, each song drifting from one scene to another, but not so great when he can’t pull it off. What made the first Toro Y Moi album so interesting was its modernity, that it was very much of a time and place, a record that Bundick clearly knew what he wanted to make. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like that here. By discarding the impeccably crafted digital soundscapes which littered his debut, Bundick has also discarded much of Toro Y Moi’s character. Underneath the Pine is aimless and lacking in focus, the aural equivalent of some pretty doodles on a piece of paper – fine while you’re looking at them, but instantly forgettable the moment your attention slides elsewhere. It’s well-made, sure, and it sounds cool. But it kind of feels like a joke, a pastiche of the things Bundick claims to love – the kind of album that would be equally as at home in the background of an episode of Come Dine With Me as it would be sidling out of the speakers at a branch of Urban Outfitters, wafting over the heads of dead-eyed teenagers gobbling up the latest James Blake 7”.

This isn’t a terrible album by any means. It’s sweet and warm, perfectly fine to listen to, and crafted by someone with an obvious love of FM-pop and the artier end of hip-hop. The problem is, it’s just all a bit boring. Bundick should be applauded for trying something different (the album’s first single, the funky, burbling ‘New Beat’, is fantastic), for at least attempting to change his sound, but ultimately Underneath the Pine lacks cohesion and direction. It’s nicely textured, loosely stylish and brimming with harmony but just too haphazard and lacking in clarity to ever really embrace. Bundick is likely to go on to produce much better work given his quite obvious talents, but unfortunately they aren’t showcased here. It’s music for shopping, or for cooking to, something to accompany the clink of wine glasses. But it’s not music to remember.