Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine (2011, Carpark Records)

Toro Y Moi is the alias for Columbia, South Carolina-recording artist Chazwick Bundick. His music has gotten a lot of attention lately mainly due to the so-called “chillwave” movement that started last summer. Whereas Chaz’s music, along with the music of Washed Out, Memory Tapes, and Neon Indian do sound familiar to each other because of the lo-fi 80s sound, dreamy bedroom synths, and melodic vocals that are stunningly minimal, as well as the fact that Chaz and Washed Out’s Ernest Greene are friends that have known each other even before the chillwave scene exploded, still, Toro Y Moi’s new album somehow breaks the definition of the so-called “chillwave” movement. Whereas Toro Y Moi’s debut album, “Causers of This”, included a lot of digital sampling and effects in order to acheive the dreamy hip-hop inspired sound that he is known for, his newest release, “Underneath The Pine”, is strikingly different. Yes, the dreamy 80s-like elements are still there, but nowhere will you find any digital samples of other people’s works. According to Chaz, the music on this album was all recorded using live instrumentation, and in the end, it shows. This is something altogether beautiful that sounds like it came straight from the 60s, when the music of The Beach Boys started to reign the California coastlines, but here, Toro Y Moi brings it the Boys’ brand of surf music, and revamps it with the influence of modern music. The end result is Animal Collective without as much of the crazy psychedelic effects, Grizzly Bear with just some more beautiful harmonies, and well, just simply Toro Y Moi’s own brand of hip-hop influenced funk with elements of other genres.

“Intro/Chi Chi” starts with the drone of an analog synthesizer and some chain-like percussion instruments, which then changes to a very dissonant cluster of noises before going into a beautiful soundscape of synthesizers, droning vocals, and just dreamy sounding notes. A funk groove, complete with drums and a bass, enters the mix, and quietly ends out the track out. Next, “New Beat” has a disco groove and a funky bassline that sounds like a throwback to the 70s, complete with brass-like synth leads filled with vibrato and chord progressions with a phaser or wah-wah effect on it. Chaz’s vocals on the track add just the perfect touch as well, being quite airy and dreamy for such an upbeat and funky track. Also, a jazzy rhodes line breaks the beat in the middle before going back into the chorus, and ending out unexpectedly with the lead synths. Overall, this is a great start to the album, and we’re only on the first 2 tracks!

“Go With You” is where the Beach Boys influence comes in, as the sound is very warm, filled with analog goodness, and just sounds like something you would play on a hot day at the beach or perhaps just cruising town. There are interesting effects going on in the vocals to make it sound very dreamy, and the melodies here are just beautiful. Also, the drums and bassline make yet again the perfect counterpoint to the dreaminess of the guitars, synths, and vocals, and overall, this sounds like something that should have come from the 70s, but was actually made within the past few months. “Divina” is a nice slow ballad of sorts, with a funky rhodes line in the beginning with all sorts of atmospheric stuff going on the background, before leading into the drums, bass, and some piano on top. This song would seem perfect for a slow dance ballad at a high school prom, and yet, it last only over two minutes, without any vocals, and going straight into “Before I’m Done”, where the sounds of acoustic or classical guitar lead into a funky groove with flute Mellotron sounds and vocals that seem yet again to come straight from the 60s. “Got Blinded” starts with some type of 80s-like synth chords before going straight into more funk, with some synth stuff going on that actually reminds me of Tangerine Dream’s sequenced stuff in “Phaedra”. The vocal harmonies here sound good, and overall, this is just more ear candy that is just deliciously beautiful.

Onto the next half of the album, “How I Know” is more Beach Boys-esque stuff, with the vocal harmonies sounding straight from the 60s, along with all the classic reverb, and a driving groove, some piano, twangy guitar, and melodic synths to keep the song moving along. “Light Black” starts out with more of the strange sounds from the intro, before moving into a very psychedelic and simply eerie soundscape of effects, drums, bass, synths, and Chaz’s haunting vocals. “Still Sound”, the official first single from the album, is what got me hooked in the first place. The synths sound very Boards of Canada-like, and really, this song reminds me of what Boards of Canada would do if they took their nostaglic sound, and put funk and soul rhythms and vocals around it. Also, one could also compare this to MGMT’s “Electric Feel” (not the Justice remix, mind you). This is as best as I can describe it, because obviously, this song isn’t at all like Boards of Canada’s work, nor not quite like MGMT, but one can’t listen to this and not make the comparisons. Also, the rhodes piano have a jazz feel to it, and really, this song could be passed off as a smooth jazz piece, except that it consistently breaks different genres at once, and in the end, it’s just Chaz’s style of music.

“Good Hold” starts with a somewhat dissonant piano line, which is followed by more funky beats and Chaz’s vocals. Actually, the whole piece sounds like something that could be used in a film, and coincidentally, Chaz was inspired by film composers during the making of the album. Chaz’s vocals during the chorus are also very beautiful, and for the first time on the album, the whole song is filtered by a low-pass filter, which makes it one of the only traces of Chaz’s past works to appear on this album. The last song, “Elise”, which is also the longest song on the entire album, clocking in at 6 minutes, starts with some very jazzy and almost Latin-like melodies from rhodes and synths, with Chaz’s reverberated vocals in the background. Around the 1 minute mark, more funk grooves enter, with some very jazzy basslines going on as well. A melodic guitar melody can be heard going on in some places, and the vocal harmonies are also spot on. It breaks into some 70s style rhythms in the middle of the song, which sound like they could’ve been used on some type of action film from back in that era. A strange blues lick from the guitar enters in, along with some very wild synth work as well. The song takes it time even further as a more ambient, instrumental thing, with Chaz’s vocals still mumbling and humming on, before suddenly ending. Thus, the album has ended.

I had been looking forward to this album ever since its announcement back in November. Now that’s it’s finally here, I’ve listened to it, and once again this month, I am blown away. I’ve always respected Toro Y Moi’s music, and here, Chaz has once again exceeded my expectations. At first, I had been expecting more electronic “chillwave” stuff, and once I heard that this time around, there would be live instrumentation, and had heard the single “Still Sound”, I was hooked. Sure, there are some weird sounds going on in this album, but it’s part of the experience, and sounds very reminiscent to the psychedelic sounds from back in the 60s and 70s. Overall, this is a funk/soul-influenced psychedelic pop album that consistently breaks the line of many genres, and in the end, it’s just Toro Y Moi’s music. This is one of the few instances of pure music. There is no Auto-Tune going on here. No crappy electronic sounds like what has been coming to the mainstream radio the past couple of years. The sounds here are warm, sunny, and painfully real, and yet, that is what makes this album so beautiful. This is surely going to be one of the best albums of the year, and I hope Chaz keeps up the Toro Y Moi project, because the sounds here are great. Highly recommended listening.

Title: Underneath The Pine

Artist: Toro Y Moi

Genre: Psychedelic pop/funk/jazz

Released 2011 by Carpark Records

Available now at all major retailers!

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