Album Review: Toro y Moi’s Anything in Return

By Jaime Pitillas

The man behind Toro y Moi, Chazwick Bundick, has been offering a complementing color to the indie synth-pop-chillwave scene since 2009. With two albums and several EPs he was demarcated and even named as one of the pioneers of chillwave. Other bands like Washed Out and Youth Lagoon have shared a similar fate, but Bundick seems to have taken a step forward, leaving behind the narrow genre that seems increasingly inadequate to describe his work.

Causers of This (2010) was the cause of that pigeonholing — it was a clever presentation of Bundick’s chill slant based on a distinctive mix of synths and electronic rhythms. Underneath the Pine (2011) was an excellent record whereby we realized that Toro y Moi is a growing project, a vehicle used by a very versatile musician in order to produce his music metamorphosis.

Anything in Return starts off with “Harm in Change”, which is the kind of song that evidences Bundick’s new perspective. A keyboard progression resting on hip-hop drum machines, with a catchy falsetto melody: it’s Toro y Moi’s new trademark. All the tunes are gently combined with hip-hop and R&B arrangements, like in “So Many Details”, the first single on the album in which he cries to a past love: “What did happen to our time we had / Of when you said you’ll never / You’ll never regret / What happened to us?”. In the majority of the songs, one can easily imagine any R&B modern rising artist (Drake, Frank Ocean) singing it. “Cola”, “Day One” and “Grow Up Calls” are other examples.

In Anything in Return, released on Carpark Records this week, Bundick puts aside the garage instruments — and with them the funky and lo-fi style prevalent on his 2011 album fades too. At the same time, his beloved synth gets back on stage and his most electronic of compositions follow suit. Nevertheless, a lighter and easier production discipline makes this record an easier one for the first-listeners.

Halfway through the album, the tracks “Studies” and “High Living” emerge above the rest. Thanks to them, the groovy Bundick makes his return — the one who creates paradoxical expectation through his atmospheres and moods with unpredictable songs. In “Studies” his guitar is accompanied by a powerful bassline and a biting psychedelic organ, achieving one of the highlights of the album. “High Living” is his West Coast tune, where his recent move to Berkeley makes itself noticeable. Again, the synthesizer carries the momentum of the song, this time in a calm and balmy way and with a softer and diluted temper. In a relaxed mood he claims: “You and me can be what we want to be / Don’t you like this come falling down on me / I can hold it in my arms and I don’t expect anything in return.”

Toro y Moi’s two earlier works reflected an artisan process wherein he clearly showed his influences through his peerless point of view. The tunes were more diverse, challenging, difficult to follow, and most importantly, distinct. The sensation I get from Anything in Return is not as expressive and seductive as from the others. The songs on the record work as a whole, but they don’t show the depth to which Toro y Moi fans have become accustomed. Bundick himself has said that this album has a new “pop” direction, and he seems to have gotten what he wanted.

Toro y Moi has done it again, for better or worse. He has introduced a new aesthetic into his short but rich career. He has changed his early way of expressing himself through grooves and characteristic beats for a new songwriting facet.  Many will be interested in his new album, others may prefer his electric form, but I’m sure Chaz Bundick is satisfied with Anything in Return because it keeps a prolific and diverse trajectory. As his career progresses, it will continue to be difficult to predict his next move.