I like to be challenged occasionally, but definitely not all of the time. The music I choose to enjoy (and by extension, most entertainment) carries an air of familiarity and comfortable context. Very rarely will I actively seek out the latest and greatest in a genre or medium that I’m not familiar with. And yet I’m always looking for really good night music for driving. It just seems to create that perfect soundtrack for the darkened interior of a car, lit only by little dots and dashes.
And it is in these ideals that Toro Y Moi’s Underneath The Pine mightily succeeds. Populated by spacey, laid-back grooves the album works perfectly as a soundtrack for a leisurely night-time joy ride for coffee or a chilled-out board game night at home. Taking a cue from Stereolab, Toro Y Moi employ lounge-style beats, glitchy keyboard sounds, and wispy vocals to create an ethereal yet subtle rhythmic atmosphere. Another absolute plus is the excellent layering of warm piano lines and shimmering synths on top of a solid rhythm section. In fact the track “New Beat” features some fantastic Thriller-era rhythmic production a la Quincy Jones coupled with a quite unexpected modulation and a tasty jazz guitar lick!
One also might hear echoes of 80s hit-makers Hall and Oats, the major difference being the lack of Daryl Hall’s characteristic R&B vocals. While I like their placement in the mix, some listeners might find them difficult to discern as they are not so prominent. On one hand, this sort of bothers me as it shows a lack of confidence in one’s song-writing or singing. Yet I think Chaz’s voice is quite nice and fits in well in the context of the songs. Also, his falsetto (particularly on “Got Blinded”) reminds me of the Beach Boys. His more laid-back delivery actually reminds me of two Chicago indie-rock bands. The first, Owen (which is the solo vehicle for long-time indie stalwart Mike Kinsella) and the second, The Sea and Cake. Both possess jazzy influences and a sort of chilled-out feel about them all the while featuring nice, groovy tempos.
So, in essence, I hear in Toro Y Moi something familiar yet something new. While the album certainly isn’t groundbreaking, it doesn’t need to be. Synthesizing seemingly divergent influences into a cohesive and listenable whole requires a high level of skill. Some might shy away from the idea of “nice” music, something that can be played with the express purpose of filling in a certain bandwidth and continue browsing for something more enigmatic. But for those who are looking for something intriguing but not obtrusive, exciting but not obnoxious, Toro Y Moi’s Underneath the Pine is an excellent place to start.
“New Beat,” “Go With You,” “Divinia,” “Elise”
Stereolab, Owen, The Sea and Cake, Beach Boys