Chaz Bundick’s debut album Causers of This was one of a handful of rinsed-out sets from aesthically similar indie/electronic musicians lumped together as ‘chillwave’, the joke-genre that for better or worse became an actual genre. Like contemporaries Neon Indian and Memory Tapes, his music was prettily lit, amorphous, nostalgic but also a little too insubstantial. One lick of this stuff – and like candyfloss, it’s gone.
It’s promising then, that the first sensation offered up by Toro y Moi’s second album Underneath the Pine is one of elements arranging themselves slowly into focus, of musical shapes coalescing around a much more strongly arranged suite of songs than he served up previously. Whereas even the strongest moments on Causers of This fell back on a hot-goopy mess of chopped synths, the best arrangements here, like the pulsing ‘How I Know’, draw strength from live drumming and piano.
The contemporary who Brunswick sounds most aligned with on Underneath the Pine is no longer Neon Indian, but Ariel Pink. The ability to flick up and down the AM radio dial, and subvert the resultant found sound to one’s own ends is cleverly on show. Yet, while their musical tastes clearly overlap (the throwback R&B on the excellent ‘Still Sound’ is pure Pink), Brunswick’s lyrics, when you can decode them, are less bizarre, and less well, interesting than Pink’s.
Ultimately, though, lyrics were never going to be a big consideration in the assessment of an album that basks so happily in its own melodies and textures. With such capable handling of classic psychedelic pop, this record recalls old hands Stereolab and (the sadly defunct) Broadcast; as such, it will surely widen the appeal of Toro y Moi beyond the, ahem, Chillwave ghetto.