With Underneath the Pine, Toro y Moi’s follow-up to 2010’s chillwave classic Causers of This, it’s clear we’re not in for a sequel. “Intro Chi Chi” begins with distorted, wall-of-sound synths and chromatic washes of Rhodes piano, giving way to a crisp cowbell groove. This time, budding producer and Toro y Moi mastermind Chaz Bundick casts aside drum machines and flanged tape loops for a different pallet.
The lead single, “New Beat,” sports an elastic bass line, handclaps and a stutter-step synth riff that will burrow into your mindgrapes to take up residence. Bundick’s blasé vocal delivery masks the undeniably funky groove he is laying down. But don’t be fooled. Bundick is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that traces back to Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones—even snakes towards Herbie Hancock—and that you will follow all the way to the dance floor.
Unfortunately, this album suffers from donut syndrome: a delicious ring of nostalgic pop with a hole in the center. The middle of the record, beginning with the jaunty “Got Blinded,” brings to mind images of scruffy 20-something dudes playfully chasing cardiganed blonde women through Central Park. A nylon-string guitar part meanders through the terminally chill snooze of “Before I’m Done,” which is only exacerbated by another minute and a half of drones and Bundick’s ooing and ahhing.
Annoyed with drummer Buddy Miles’ scat singing while mastering Band of Gypsies, Jimi Hendrix famously exclaimed, “Shut the fuck up!,” tearing his hair at the mixing board. Bundick likes to use his reverberated voice to add texture to his songs, but in most cases the arrangements are already packed with jazz and funk staples. Chaz! We love you, but put down the microphone for a minute and play.