The first album from Chaz Bundick’s Toro y Moi project, Causers of This, was a classic “wait for the next one” record, a chrysalis of something remarkable in need of a bigger budget and more meditation, unfairly thrust out into a global spotlight. At the point of its creation, Bundick was an album-less enigma, shifting through different incarnations and sonic definitions – but with a year of touring and thinking under his belt, it sounds like he knows the way forward. Underneath The Pine is refreshingly built from the ground up with a setlist in mind. The fleeting shiftiness is replaced by a full-bodied swagger with a specific delineation and image—putting Bundick’s refined songwriting in the spotlight.
This is not the bedroom-project we heard in 2010. Underneath The Pine has Toro y Moi coming together like an externalized band, with sounds sprouting up from organic instruments and more direct inspiration. “Got Blinded” and “How I Know” has Bundick sighing in the same romanticist chirp as Stuart Murdoch, the garbled funk of “New Beat” and “Still Sound” naturally advances his chillwave designation, and occasionally, like on “Good Hold,” he resigns to a frigid piano for a simple, stormy love-ballad. Airy indie pop was not the obvious choice for Toro y Moi, but Bundick pulls it off with a confounding amount of grace. There’s not an awkward moment to be found.
It’s also a bit of a downhearted listen; the first audible words of the songs include such jolts of Zoloft as “Don’t keep it all in your head,” “I don’t want you gone,” “don’t take what she says into you,” and my personal favorite “It’s hard when you’re living.” The music has a sense of insecurity; the malformed bass-bumps of “New Beat” come off seasick and often Bundick’s upper-register croon can sound quite lamenting—but the record is primarily about the songwriting. As it stands, Underneath The Pine is a great example of bedroom-pop’s possibility, transcending its chintzy origins and embracing a more solid craft. Toro y Moi is overachieving, everyone else is catching up.