Toro Y Moi's debut was one of my real highlights of last year... That rare thing: an album that lives up to the blogger hype (yes, appreciate this is a blog and so I would say that...)
Full of funky J Dilla style loops, soulful low-in-the-mix vocals and tight eighties flourishes Causes Of This stands out as the best of what the chill wave genre can offer. It may have had the odd moment of weakness but its highlights more than outweigh them.
Underneath The Pine is unexpected. It would have been easy to just focus on taking Causes Of This and re-making it without the sub-par moments: an easy route to sophomore critical success. Instead Toro Y Moi appears to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The funky slabs of eighties synth are gone, replaced with a more natural sounding fuzzy seventies vibe, and the hip-hop influence has all but disappeared.
The result feels like the Carpenters covered by Animal Collective. The production here is immaculate and Chazwick Bundick's talent in this area really shows - this is a tight record. 'New Beat' is a part stomping funk number, part freeform jazz experiment and 'Divinia' is a gentle, slow paced ballad marked by it's piercing piano refrain. 'Got Blinded' is perhaps Bundick's finest vocal performance yet, his falsetto tones sounding more vulnerable than ever.
But is this the point? Underneath The Pine sounds like a frigging brilliant psychedelic album by a seventies soul artist. Which is admittedly fantastic. But ultimately this isn't the album we wanted - it's interesting, sure, but Toro Y Moi appears to have lost something along the way.
This week I got into a debate following the piece on Justice's new single over whether artists are okay just staying the same or if they need to continuously move on. My view is that progression is crucial but what I hadn't considered is the importance of time. Justice has let years fall away but have come back as if nothing has changed in the world. Toro Y Moi has done the opposite - a year after his first album we have a follow up that feels like it skips an important bridging album.
Underneath The Pine is a lovely album - it just wasn't the album we wanted.