Kaputt and Cut Copy's Zonoscope took very different roads, but both ended up on the Disco dance floor. Now, it's Toro y Moi, aka Chazwick Bundick, hoping to make good on the buzz afforded him by last year's debut LP, Causers of This, by laying his scene right underneath that same glittering ball.
What's easy enough to say about UTP, from First listen to forty-second, is that it's an album belonging primarily to one song: New Beat. It's a song that doesn't ape or adapt to old-school Disco sound; it simply lives it. Unlike many bands mining similar influences, New Beat sounds more like a brother of the artists it emulates rather than a descendant, smooth, silky, playful and buoyant. As if the backing weren't enough, Bundick's voice shines on the track as well, gliding right through it with a breezy confidence that can't be faked. You might even laugh the first time that you hear it, its bouncy, silly energy made disarming by how absent it is from modern pop, but you'll be hitting that repeat button within no time.
Bundick is no dummy: the first half of UTP makes it abundantly clear that he knows NB is the album's real gem, as the songs he decides to frame it with prove extremely telling. Intro Chi Chi lives up to its name by simply introducing the album, and its aesthetic, a few opening rumbles giving way to something groovy, and bass-driven. New Beat comes second, followed by the somewhat unexciting Go With You; not a bad song, but a track impossibly dwarfed by its predecessor. Then there's Divina, another instrumental track, and a quite good one at that, with its deliberate pace and punching piano, but a transition song none the less. Before I'm Done also can't buck the feeling that UTP is still building towards something (or perhaps distancing itself from New Beat), simple Beatles-Pop vocals appearing on only the first half of a 2:42 song that spends its latter part drifting away in a sea of reverb. Five tracks in, Underneath the Pine is one dazzler, one snoozer, and three, count 'em, THREE transition songs.
It's a relief, then, when Got Blinded finally leaps into existence, Bundick's voice echoing against something both speedy, and spacious. How I Know jumps out of the gate in almost the same fashion, cashing in on the same layering of Bundick's voice and faded percussion playing at a deceivingly fast pace, bettering GB by virtue of a dazzling bridge. Still Sound shows some more muscle than the rest of the album, its bass more interested in thumping than sliding, all while maintaining the album's joyous, dance floor feel. Though it can't quite win the battle, closer Elise seems like the only tune on UTP willing to compete with New Beat to be the album's best, tabling just a bit of the disc's rampant mirth in favor of something more earnest and urgent, complete with sections of rousing shout-singing.
It's always a bit tough to slide instrumental tracks next to vocal ones without having the wordless numbers sound like bridges between the rest, and whatever grace it takes is one that Budnick has yet to acquire. It's easy to celebrate the album's sparkling moments, but the whole of the thing just doesn't live up to their heights. As a unit, Underneath the Pine is a good album, the average of some killer moments, and some less captivating ones, not to mention an absolute shoe-in for a Worst Album Cover of the Year Nomination. It's not quite a must-have, but some individual tracks absolutely are.