The Sophomore Success
Following up a beloved debut LP is all about striking a difficult balance: a matter of changing but not too much, both remaining faithful to a sound whilst departing from it. Chaz Bundick ably turns such a trick on his second Toro y Moi album, Underneath the Pine, which ably furthers what his project is 'allowed' to be, whilst delivering plenty to keep first-album fans happy.
Bundick's Toro y Moi debut, Causers of This, was embraced as an early landmark of the chillwave sound, but his second record pushes beyond its sound; and, in a way, shifts the parameters of what the brand-new, blog-bubble 'genre' may end up entailing.
True to the chillwave MO, Causers of This had a wonky, wobbly, worked-over feeling; a self-consciously 'dated' haze that, really, spoke of a home-recording artist at his computer, clocking up hours of toil. That washed-out (so to speak) feeling of the first record is gone; there's no smoothed-down, surface-waxed productions, no strung-together transitions stitching separate tracks into a single, unbroken whole.
Here, Bundick takes a more traditional tack; something signaled by the fact that, after a sample-busy debut, he's taken to playing all the instruments himself. Delivering a second record, Bundick presents a set of songs that stand alone as single compositions, yet have the feeling of 'hanging' together by some shared spirit. Compared to his debut, Underneath the Pine wanders a bit: dabbling in disco rhythms, unironic funk, Beach Boysy pop, incidental mood-music pieces, and an organ sound, throughout, that has a distinctive jazz feeling.
The range of material on show is strong evidence that Bundick isn't just some guy with a 'sound,' a lo-fi producer who creates his material in an inspired but inflexible fashion. He clearly has talent to burn, and Underneath the Pine brings that into focus: he's not just a chillwave dude with an ironic '80s/'90s cassingle fixation (even if the amazing “Good Hold” turns a neat, tres-chillwave trick, where its piano ballad warps and wobbles like a tape left in the sun), but a gifted songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist.
"Light Black" shows the heavy influence of early Broadcast: churning organs and eerie noises creating an evocative collage for a lonesome vocal to float over. "New Beat" sounds built for a disco, but Bundick's layered-on singing is loaded with melancholy. And "How I Know," with cascading voice and barreling organ steeped in '60s acts like The Left Banke and The Free Design, may be the standout with its amazing piano sounds and serpentine lyrics twisting into shapes like "this is where I want you to/take me when I die and I fall asleep/underneath the pine/on a bed of needles."
The resulting record is, in a way, more about its author than its sound. Where Causers of This was a sonically-singular record that reveled in its production, Underneath the Pine is a more relaxed production; which lets Bundick's playing and personality step forward into the breach. As follow-up, it strikes that hoped-for balance in a beautiful way; not merely just-different-enough from its predecessor, but also not losing any of the promise of the debut. Two albums in, Bundick doesn't sound like a guy whose one idea is losing its luster, but like a multi-skilled musician just scratching the surface of his potential, a discography of possibilities laying in wait.
Record Label: Carpark
Release Date: February 22, 2011