New Music Tuesdays: Toro Y Moi – “Anything in Return”
Chazwick Bundick is a hard act to pin down, musically. The multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer and songwriter rose to fame during the “summer of chillwave” in 2009 and released his debut album under the name Toro Y Moi, Causers of This, shortly thereafter in early 2010. His contemporaries at the time provided much of the same music; albums by Neon Indian, Washed Out, and others hailed the coming of the new genre “chillwave” – not exactly beach music but not exactly shoegaze of the ’80s. Though this new genre petered out relatively quickly, Toro Y Moi has stuck around. He released his sophomore album, Underneath the Pine, in 2011 to generally favorable reviews (including a “Best New Music” designation from Pitchfork) and since then has released an EP. However, his main focus has been on working with other producers and remixing others work. With his third album, Anything in Return, Bundick has striven to push past the chillwave label and experiment with his producing abilities in an attempt to explore new genres.
Having not heard much of Toro Y Moi before, aside from a few remixes and lots of talk about him, I was apprehensive heading into this album. I’m not adverse to the chillwave genre, but it has never been capable of holding my attention. I liked Washed Out’s album and never really got too into Neon Indian. That being said, Anything in Return was not what I generally equate with chillwave. The drifting, synth-filled sounds of Washed Out’s debut album With or Without You, are present here, but with more focus and drive. In fact, I was struck more by how poppy the album was than by its chillwave-elements. The album is extremely pop-driven, and I mean that as a compliment. The majority of the songs are synth and bass-centric with Bundick’s melodic and calming singing floating over the top, providing for extremely catchy, sing-able songs that each have their own pulse. However, these songs don’t fit the mold of the typical radio-singles. They play with the catchiness and danceability of what makes it on to the radio, but they are more experimental, primarily due to Bundick’s constantly exploring style of production. He refuses to be contained by one style, instead choosing to experiment and throw things in to the mix that you don’t expect to hear. From opener “Harm In Change” to first single “Say That” all the way to the final song “How’s It Wrong,” Toro Y Moi floats between funk, R&B, pop, and many more genres, never settling.
However, this constant experimentation comes at a price. Though there are strong songs, there is also a lack of cohesion. It feels like beyond experimenting, Toro Y Moi is searching. He pushes songs in new directions, but because he never really settles into one area or explores with more depth, it can feel lacking. This also makes songs feel cut short at times even though most of them hit the four-minute mark. I wish he had continued with a lot of the songs and seen where he could take them, really fleshing them out, or picked one style to stick with throughout the album. Either way, it would’ve produced, in my mind, a more cohesive album. The constant movement and changing of styles creates an uneasy feeling; it can be hard to get into the groove of the album, and because of its length (almost an hour long), this can make for a boring, easy to tune out, listen. While early songs might grab the listeners attention and have them nodding their heads or humming along, by the second half of the album, I found myself almost ignoring the music. That being said, when not listened to in sequential order or in one big chunk, I enjoyed a good majority of the songs. Toro Y Moi has effectively created a fun, poppy record that, with a bit of work and fleshing out of ideas, could have been an extremely strong experimental pop album. Instead, we are left with 13 songs that each have their own highlights, but don’t serve the project as a whole.
Rating: 3 / 5
Key Tracks: Say That, Never Matter, High Living