Underneath the Pine will not smile and hug you when you meet, but with a bit of perseverance it will reveal its secrets, and they're worth hanging around for.
From the opening blissed out chords of Toro Y Moi's gorgeous debut Causers of This, the first release of one man band Chazwick Bundick, it was clear his huge, spacewave anthems were amongst the most welcoming and euphoric works of the chillwave genre to be heard last year.
In a saturated blog-reliant scene, Bundick's work under the Toro Y Moi moniker really stood out because of his commercial appeal and expert songwriting. Tracks like "Thanks Vision" and single "Low Shoulder" rode colossal '80s grooves, whilst the beautiful "Blessa" produced the achingly honest lyric "I found a job, I do it fine / Not what I want, but still I try". Bundick's music was all sunshine, smiles, and summer, and there was no remorse.
However, the opening notes of Underneath the Pine, the follow up to Causers, provide a slightly mixed message. An intense, lurching intro suggest an album that wants to defy genres, whilst "New Beat" is the standard funky summer haze disco we have come to expect. What you do notice is a rawer sound that draws comparisons to the nostalgic production experiments of Ariel Pink. Of course, being good at sounding like you recorded in the '70s has only so much appeal without a decent song written beneath it. “Go with You” is melodically subdued, yet very intricate for such fuzzy production, and makes your head hurt, much like a lot of the album, which on the whole is difficult and not as instantly warm as Causers of This was.
But then you take the time to really listen to a seemingly aimless track like “Divina” and you realise what you are hearing is a man who is more refined in his techniques this time 'round, and maybe less bothered about the pop junkies. Then you realise “Before I’m Done” isn’t dull after all, it’s just happy to stand still and is bursting with hidden beautiful as a result. The tracks are unpredictable, and often more startling than the silky glo-disco of Toro Y Moi's debut.
Second single “Still Sound” is, on the other hand, as immediate as “New Beat”, or even older works, whilst “Good Hold” has anything but the structured description its title suggests, flirting with unsettling vocal hooks before swallowing itself whole. “Elise” settles the mood when closing the album, probably the most catchy and straightforward song on the record, despite dissonant piano licks creeping up from behind.
Causers of This offered its lovability up front, and whilst Underneath the Pine may not cuddle you on greeting you, it makes your brain work, and its whole approach to the band’s new sound is, dare I say it, progressive.