South Carolina chillwave hipster Toro y Moi, a.k.a. Chaz Bundick, is an unabashed evocator of early-‘80s soul-pop, that particular slice of music that eschews clinical polish in favor of lo-fi grease n’ fuzz and laconic beats highly suggestive of softcore porn. Bundick’s music, especially the sun-drenched funk of his sophomore effort, Underneath the Pine, is a pitch-perfect conjuration of the post-disco era, and therein lies the double-edged sword of its charm, straddling—and often wandering astray of—the line between being intuitively retro and predictably derivative. For the most part, Bundick prevents Underneath the Pine from tripping too far into the netherworld of aimless glo-fi haze, but at the same time, he rarely elevates it beyond the trappings of its blog-driven genre. In other words, Underneath the Pine is exactly the kind of record that an emerging artist like Bundick would hope to avoid: a completely forgettable one.
The problem isn’t so much Bundick’s style (dreamy, lazy, somewhat distracted, always patient in pace), but his strict adherence to it, particularly the overuse of the same cloudy organ lines, drum breaks, and climb-up, climb-down vocal crooning that makes the album sound like one all-nighter bedroom jam session. Formless melodies bleed into one another, and tracks come and go without much effort or care in announcing their arrival or departure. Some would argue that much of Bundick’s appeal is his pensive, preoccupied mood, but as fellow chillwave artist and frequent Toro y Moi collaborator Ernest Greene proves, you can still be a musing, introspective poet and hold listeners’ ears rapt for more than a song or two.
Unfortunately, listening to tracks like “Still Sound,” “How I Know,” “Go with You,” and “New Beat” in succession goes a long way in confirming the suspicion that Bundick simply doesn’t have much to work with in his bag of tricks. All are writhing, myopic pieces prone to sounding, at best, aloof and, at worst, befuddled and mindless, with little in the way of an identity behind the winking retrograde sound cues. Despite the oversaturated warmth of Beneath the Pine‘s production, this is a cold record, an archetype of technical mastery and genre-worship prevailing over the artistry of an individual voice. As a result, Bundick often sounds not like one artist, but the amalgamation of a whole movement’s worth of ideas and styles, borrowed and rearranged into a faceless, forgettable whole.