Toro y Moi escapes chillwave with Anything in Return
If there’s a common thread throughout singer-songwriter Chaz Bundick’s South Carolina based genre bending project Toro y Moi, is that each of the three albums since his 2010 debut Causers of This carry an air of nostalgia, transporting listeners to a familiar yet distant time. The same can be said for his latest January 22 release Anything in Return, which Bundick described in a 2012 interview with Pitchfork as a “sincere pop” album. The album has even garnered attention, praise, and support from Bundick’s friend and controversial rapper personality Tyler the Creator. The album marks Bundick’s strongest effort to break into the pop market with a blend of danceable beats and easy listening R&B grooves.
The album’s opener “Harm in Change” is aptly titled for the Bundick’s fairly recent move to California, as well as his attempt to break away from the chillwave mold he’s been placed in since his 2010 debut. The album opener starts off with the hazy bass pulsing opener features the vocals from Felecia Douglas of Brooklyn based band Ava Luna laid over a jazzy piano before moving into a faster paced 80’s inspired R&B dance track. The buildup of the song combined with Douglas’ vocals lay the foundation for Toro y Moi’s evolution from experimental synth R&B to solid pop potential R&B production. Following up the opener is “Say That” which features Bundick’s monotonous vocals over a danceable groove beat and catchy female R&B vocal sample that easily finds its way into your head.
The album’s official single “So Many Details” is one of the strongest efforts on the entire album. The song showcases Bundick’s impressive production skills and vocal arrangements. The beat packs on a lot of layers, yet none of them overpower and instead complement one another. The easy bass line along with the cool xylophone and synth elements blend together seamlessly before ending with racy drums, creating a colorful canvas to which Bundick’s vocals paint a picture for listeners of the hardships in a relationship. The song stands out from the rest of the album as Bundick’s graduation from experimental production to a true understanding of the pop aesthetic.
“Rose Quartz” was one of the first songs to be heard from the album, Bundick having debuted it at a number of festivals over the summer of 2012. The song starts off slow before exploding into a sensual silky R&B song that features an extremely catchy vocal sample repeating “I feel weak” as Bundick himself sings throughout the song. The songs placement on the album as forth marks the last of the songs on the album that resemble Toro y Moi’s last efforts. Anything in Return’s first four songs give returning Toro y Moi fans their fix of Bundick’s previous efforts’ presence through the use of samples and nostalgic beats, while the rest of the album moves deeper into Bundick’s vision for a pop influenced album.
“High Living” is the most West Coast inspired song with the playful keyboard and slow bass drawl combined with Bundick’s hazy vocals that alternate to falsetto during the bridge. The track makes for a perfect late night jam, with its versatility ranging from late night drive anthem to the perfect party cool down song. It’s clear Bundick has decided to experiment with using his vocal as a prop as well. “Grown Up Calls” is one of the sexier tracks on the album marking Bundick’s maturity as an artist with the ability to convey his emotions lyrically. While Bundick has pointed out in the past that he is trying to improve as a lyricist, his efforts are solid in that he is able to create catchy hooks throughout each song on the album.
“Cake” is one of the album’s more upbeat pop tunes, a song written Bundick for his girlfriend. The song’s production seems heavily influenced by The-Dream, an artist Bundick has cited as being a fan of in an interview with Pitchfork. The song fails to evolve much lyrically and sticks out from the other smooth jams on the album as an obvious pop effort. “Day One” slips by on first listen, but after a second listen the song comes alive as a solid R&B track in its own right. The vocal breakdown hooks you along with the wining synth in the background and thick bass. “Never Matter” is a upbeat 80’s synth jam that features almost frantic vocals. The song is at times reminiscent of tracks on Toro y Moi’s early singles from his June 2009 album. The production is impressive yet succeeds in overpowering weak lyrics. As a pop track this song would be reluctant to find success that the beat is still to experimentally nostalgic for mainstream pop audiences as well as the fact that the vocals are mismatched to a busy beat.