Throughout 2009 and 2010, a new genre of electronic music emerged. Dubbed “chillwave” by music satire blog Hipster Runoff, the music of Neon Indian, Washed Out, & Toro y Moi was defined by a hazy, reverbed electronic sound, heavy on nostalgia and woozy synths. Those two years were dominated by the chillwave newcomers, and even into 2011 we’re still being bombarded with bands trying to capitalize on the success of the forefathers of all things “beachy.”
The epicenter of this movement could quite possibly be considered South Carolina (of all places). Both Ernest Greene of Washed Out and Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi emerged from the Palmetto State in 2009 with a slew of EPs and singles. Toro y Moi’s first cohesive effort was a lo-fi dance LP called My Touch. While the songwriting was solid, the cheap production style didn’t favor Chaz’s sound as well as his peers (see Washed Out’s Life of Leisure). Returning to the studio, he released Causers of This in early 2010 to critical acclaim, and drew comparisons to the late J Dilla, Panda Bear, Daft Punk, and almost immediately inspired a slew of copycats.
Many criticisms of chillwave draw on the lack of creativity in the genre, naysayers will say that every songs “sounds the same.” A very narrow-minded, but accurate critique. Trying to avoid that stereotype, Toro y Moi’s third effort, Underneath the Pine is a powerful display of guts and talent, proving that Chaz Bundick is more than just the part of a fad genre.
Drawing comparisons to Stereolab and French electronic legends Air, Underneath the Pine is a mashup of styles and sounds that come off as refreshing and completely new. The album’s first single, “New Beat” is a blast of electronic funk, sounding like some sort of futuristic disco roller rink theme. “Still Sound” feeds you the same vibe before breaking down into a midsection that features smooth rhodes keys, a repetitive chirping sample, and layered vocals that whisper in your ear until the inevitable fade out. But those are the climaxes of the album. The songs sandwiched between those two singles are filled with track after track of laid-back hits that sound like Sly Stone and Alan Palomo got together to make elevator music. While none stand out as much as “Still Sound” and “New Beat”, tracks like “How I Know” and “Before I’m Done” provide a kick compared to the rest of the down-tempo material that fills up the middle. Regardless, they all flow together with remarkable ease, I’ve often found myself 5 songs deep into this album without even noticing.
This kind of sonic change is something most musicians try to avoid, and for good reason. Immediate reactions towards Underneath the Pine ranged from confusion to anger. We aren’t used to a musician sounding this different in a span of less than 12 months. With an album like this, time needs to be taken to soak it all in. This is an album that deserves to be played in mid-July with the windows down and the sunroof up. I think by the end of Summer 2011, we’ll understand Underneath the Pine a whole lot more.