By David Colburn
Chillwave is cool. It is a very stylish subgenre of music, brimming with a vintage cheesiness that somehow transcends irony and ultimately becomes endearing. Laid-back melodies progress in a sweet reminiscence, right down to the specific instrumental textures and fuzzy production. Toro Y Moi’s second album, Underneath the Pine, inhabits many of the genre’s prime characteristics; the aural environment is as warm and comforting as the prospect of reclining on the sofa and enjoying a bowl of soup in some parallel retro universe.
There is indeed something underneath Underneath the Pine. In all of the endorphin-releasing timbres of bliss, there is a brooding psychedelic darkness to keep the listener on edge. Strains of jazz-fusion and symphonic progressive rock – consider groups of the early 1970s such as Camel – are re-created in an almost natural manner. The album’s hypnotic quality is expressed through two elements: the occasional dissonant and sinister organ tones and almost otherworldly production techniques. When combined, the elements bring an even greater life to the listen, one may easily become lost amidst the restless circular motions of sound and rhythm that move inward and outward.
All of the potent nostalgia of the album is indelibly divided in a commanding yet equally inviting contrast. That sense of subtle joy can be re-assessed as an almost nightmarish and ghostly view of the past from listen to listen. The airy vocals soothe and calm in one instant and disturb and disorient in another, with no difference in intensity or quality.
Even in the midst of sonic contradiction, Underneath the Pine exerts a distinct solidarity. There is a certain aesthetic quality comparable to that of a worn vinyl album. The listening experience is a late night stroll through hazy corridors of lo-fi sound and imagery from the introduction track to the concluding “Elise”. It’s a stroll worth taking again and again.
Those familiar with the genre of chillwave will probably know what to expect before the album even begins. Perhaps that sounds a bit disappointing, but it actually serves as a testament to the strength of the burgeoning musical subgenre. Don’t hate Underneath the Pine because it’s cool; don’t hate Underneath the Pine because the retro influence is worn on its sleeve with pride; enjoy the album for one simple reason: it’s enjoyable.