Toro y Moi – Anything In Return

Toro y Moi - Anything In Return
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Many were first introduced to Chazwick Bundick’s intimate sound with his glorious debut, Causers of This, back in early 2010 during chillwave’s glory years. After being established as one of the micro genre’s leaders by countless bloggers, Bundick quickly fled his kingdom the following year with Underneath the Pine, his sophomore LP that took listeners back in time with its unforeseen bedroom-funk classification. Freaking Out, Toro y Moi’s second release of 2011, jerked listeners from their comfortable living space to the dance floor rather abruptly and almost without warning. The EP’s quick pacing and stronger vocal presence revealed a new found confidence in Bundick that progressively swelled, as evident in his interviews from then and now.

Many wondered what musical territory Bundick would venture into next due to his constant shifts in style. Early press for Anything in Return revealed that the new sound would be pop, but what could that mean? The genre itself is broad to say the least, but couldn’t just about anything Bundick released be labeled as something pop? Fans were either comforted or frightened into further confusion when the album was sighted as having Justin Beiber and Beyoncé as musical influences. “I want to see what’s popular, then put my own spin on it,” Bundick stated, perhaps in an attempt to reassure those who were confused by the album’s almost minimal synopsis that was put out even before its first single. And ultimately that’s what was done with Anything in Return: an accessible album was created without the sacrifice of personality or identity.

As with all of his releases before this one, Bundick wastes no time in mercilessly introducing his newest sonic ventures. “Harm in Change” is that introduction with a slight difference from his other album openers: it shows signs of elemental integration. Underneath the Pine and Freaking Out both flaunted something previously unconceivable for Toro y Moi, but Anything in Return feels natural as far as Bundick’s musical timeline is concerned. The blend between the former’s physical, acoustic instrumentation (mainly in the percussion) and the latter’s large, filling synths makes Bundick’s self-proclaimed goal of showing off production skills evident. The opener’s overall sheen isn’t quite as glossy as the EP’s icebreaker “All Alone,” but this is for a reason. Yes, “Harm in Change” is a colossal track, however, it is contained to avoid being as aggressive as the constant flash Freaking Out hurled at first time listeners. The impression it leaves is where Causers of This’ contribution comes into play for the conglomerate that is Anything in Return: composition and control. This carries on throughout the album; a pulsing, filling sound is given without blowing up the song’s character by keeping a calmer vibe than possible. Such is evident in “Never Matter,” a particularly moving track that instrumentally drives harder than just about anything else Toro y Moi has put out. And yet, it retains a feeling of vocal ease that could have easily tipped the track into a straining mess otherwise. Essentially, the production elements from FO, UtP’s natural performance style, and CoT’s laid back but intentional atmosphere are all present in the framework for Anything in Return.

Bundick’s voice, once again, is slightly more present and (in a traditional sense) quite improved in comparison with his previous releases. Interestingly enough, however, the singing itself sounds softer and rather settled. As someone who is so quick to dive into the higher reaches of his voice, Bundick’s newly found vocal niche is both refreshing and a sign of confidence. FO showed a singer ready to put himself on the line, but Anything in Return reveals an established, matured voice. The diction is crisper and hardly ever strays too far from its base, but that doesn’t mean he won’t swell with his production when the time calls. This eventually proves to get the better of Bundick, though. “High Living”’s tall vocals are well received during their lifting chorus, but the tone quickly turns from soothing to forced as the falsetto is mercilessly used to push the song’s verse forward. This happens only momentarily on other tracks in the album such as “Studies,” but these shrill mistakes are rare and always settled by the same vocalist not too long after their occurrence within the song.

From the outside, Anything in Return is Bundick’s simplest album lyrically. It wasn’t uncommon for a Toro y Moi song to feel both relatable and intrinsically locked because of the excruciatingly obvious attachment it had to the artist personally. His newest LP deviates from this in order to attain accessibility. “Cake,” a track that’s about as sugar-coated as the title suggests, boasts a chorus that is almost comically drenched in lyrical predictability, but Bundick cuddles it authentic ties to his actual affectionate other. (The song was written, after all, specifically for her love of simple radio-pop.) The hook on song baits a smile while the verse catches an interest. This isn’t the case with most of the album, however; “So Many Details,” the LP’s lead single, is as captivatingly delicate lyrically the entire time as it is outwardly attractive. Social awareness, feelings of want and emotional confusion are all tossed into a melodramatic tale of hot and cold in a way that is both entertaining and convincing. Such are the themes to follow in tracks like “Cola” and the album’s epic conclusion “How’s It Wrong.” For someone who claims to be a horrible lyricist, Bundick masterfully alters his words and vocal presentation in such a way that pleases both casual and dedicated Toro y Moi listeners.

As previously stated, Bundick’s goal of taking popular music and making it his own is easily accomplished on this album, but this is especially the case with the true focal point of Anything in Return: the production. Almost every sound used is fairly recognizable individually, but their overall application is what brings Bundick’s charismatic character into the picture. “Say That”’s slyly sassy vocals are elevated by the shift in musical style in the background of the track: the openings delicate pulse and approaching synths are teased by sudden bass thumps only to be shuttled away by slightly grimy undertones and repetitive vocal samples. These samples themselves are worth noting for adding much to a track: “Rose Quartz”’ snippets of unrecognizable syllables drive a majority of the song and set the theme with a repeated “’cause I feel weak” audio clip that ends up making its way into the actual lyrics. Some songs use them more sparsely, especially “How’s It Wrong.” Honestly, the track would not be the same without the occasional “ooooooooooooh” that sneaks its way to the front of the songs general sound. The main importance of the production on Anything in Return, though, is its casual positioning between danceable and soothing. Every single track ensues foot tapping in the very least, yet these same songs are just as enjoyable when viewed as narratives because of the versatility within the groove; the beats can cause whatever one wants them to. When paired with their respective vocals, the beats serve a perfect balance between cushion and engine for Bundick’s voice. That’s their real beauty of Anything in Return’s production: intriguing on its own and nothing short of striking with its audible partner.

Chazwick Bundick had much riding on him during the release of what many considered to be his make it or break it album, but it’s obvious this pressure didn’t affect the man’s songwriting ability. His music is still personable, still enjoyable, and without a doubt still believable. That is, nevertheless, what separates Toro y Moi from most acts: everything he puts out is honest. Even in his music’s simplest and most applicable form, Bundick is totally himself and no one else. His music never compromises or settles, it only adjusts according to his own, personal desires. There’s no telling what kind of music Bundick will put out next; at this point it seems as though there is no genre he can’t conquer. Another pop album from Toro y Moi is an encouraged idea at the moment, but since when has Bundick been one to settle down musically?

Jonathan Williams

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