Toro Y Moi, ‘Anything in Return’ – Album Review
Toro Y Moi mastermind Chaz Bundick insists 'Anything in Return' is his pop album. He cites Justin Bieber as an influence. It's a good way for him to draw a line in the sand.
It's part of his continued progression away from 'Causers of This,' his 2010 debut full-length, the record that led to his association with the half-hearted genre called 'chillwave,' populated by the likes of Ariel Pink and Washed Out and anyone else who put out a record in 2010 that borrowed from sleepy '70s- and '80-era pop.
'Anything in Return' is a more concise take on the the layered grooves and sonic scrap-booking of 2011's 'Underneath the Pine,' the record that saw Bundick picking up instruments and stretching out his songs into dense, funky symphonies. It officially separated him from chillwave flashes in the pan.
Bundick is an adept curator of old sounds. He puts to use records buried in consignment-store crates that no one else would give a second glance, and he's particularly fond of the synth-y thumps and sparkles that glittered post-disco pop. Brief samples of rappers shouting "yeah" and borrowed organ riffs service Bundick's songs the way random squeals and keyboard squiggles adorned 'Off The Wall'- and 'Thriller'-era Michael Jackson hits. His recycled sounds materialize into memories of hazy, sexy summers that never existed outside of the inner-sleeves of long-forgotten records and 'Miami Vice' establishing shots – panoramics of avenues drenched in streetlights and the figures of kids hanging out of passenger-side windows. In that vein, 'So Many Details,' the album's first single, is a groove-and-hook funk homage that dissolves into layers of whirling cop-siren synth. Bundick surfaces with half-thoughts of a stoned, restless drive through downtown anywhere on a Friday night.
But Bundick can't claim his album as pop and not prepare to be judged on the strength of his hooks, and it's here that he comes up a bit short. The best melody on the album belongs to 'Studies,' a dance-floor track that features the best images in the album -- perfume lies buried in a purse, some dangerous woman casually bites her nails -- with all sounds perfectly in balance, including a floor of piano and synth beating out a single chord and a rumble of bass and drums. The strength of the refrain, spinning like a disco ball, carries Bundick beyond '70s and '80s R&B and pop imitation and allows him to stand on his own legs.
The record continues to a Rhodes-driven funk piece called 'High Living' that dips into the adventurousness that set apart 'Underneath the Pine.' But on weaker songs like 'Rose Quartz' and the hollow 'Cake,' Bundick confuses pop for concision -- instead of focusing on hooks, he over-edits the dense sound he developed on 'Pine.' Bundick would be better served letting his inclination for extended moods and beats dominate the record. Instead, he edits his sound for a "poppier" effect. The result is an album that delivers less of the goods in favor of terseness.