Available on: Carpark LP
I never quite got my head what exactly the term ‘chillwave’ was meant to denote, other than a rough geographic location (Southern California) and a vague cluster of bands with shared penchant for filtered-‘80s synth sounds. Either way, Toro Y Moi’s 2010 debut LP, Causers Of This, with its tape-saturated bedroom charm and nods to the grooves of J Dilla was certainly one of the best things to emerge out of the tail-end of that transient genre.
It may barely be a year since Causers Of This dropped, but in these days of internet-dominated music twelve months can be a hell of a long time. When Toro Y Moi – real name Chaz Bundick – first gained recognition there was a huge appetite for any seemingly-mysterious bedroom producer with lo-fi sensibilities and one eye on the 1980s. Now, however, as this second album arrives, Bundick returns to what can only be described as very crowded marketplace.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means attempting to say a bad word about any of the excellent lo-fi, retro-influenced solo-artists that have emerged over the last year or so – I’ll happily stand up as a massive endorser of the likes of How To Dress Well, Autre Ne Veut, Ducktails, Memory Tapes etc. But as we enter 2011 I’m probably 30-seconds of tape-hiss and a squelchy synth sound away from retreating to a cupboard and refusing to listen to anything other than the most commercial r’n’b for the next six months.
Fortunately it seems that Toro Y Moi is equally aware of the need for him to find himself a fresh USP. In the run up to the release of Underneath The Pine, in some of his increasingly-less-rare interviews, Bundick dropped hints that his second LP could see him moving further into lo-fi territory and/or making some sort of folk record. While neither of these statements turned out to be true, Toro Y Moi does sound different here. He is certainly more confident sounding, happier to rely less on production effects (his clumsy use of filters on Causers Of This was a bit much at times), and more inclined to let his songwriting speak for itself.
‘New Beat’ sees Bundick breaking away from the bedroom vibe completely and operating pretty much in full band territory. It’s less J Dilla and more the Dam-Funk – jazz-fusion keyboards, porn-soundtrack synths and a killer bassline. It’s pop as hell and Toro Y Moi sounds all the better for it. ‘Go With You’ is a slightly more laid-back take on the same trick; some nice reversed reverb effects add to the production well, but in all it’s a guitar-driven, straight-up pop song.
Underneath The Pine does, however, get a little patchy when Bundick lets the tempo drop. The slower tracks on the album are a hit and miss affair. There’s occasionally brilliance – the lovely ‘Before I’m Done’ sounds like Toro Y Moi is channelling Brian Wilson – but on tracks like ‘Light Black’ and ‘Good Hold’ Bundick seems to lose confidence, dropping his vocals lower in the mix and hiding behind ‘washy’ production effects.
Overall though, this is a fairly strong second effort; where Toro Y Moi has made changes to his songwriting style he’s certainly moving in good directions. But more than anything else, with songs like ‘Still Sound’, Bundick has shown that he has a real talent for producing straight-up, funky pop, and if he has the confidence to pursue that route a solid future and wider audience probably await him.