Toro Y Moi - Anything In Return

Toro Y Moi was once associated with the electronic pop subgenre and short cultural moment known as chillwave. There. That’s done. As far as I’m concerned — and I seem to be the only critic who thinks this — Chaz Bundick’s name and the c-word never need to appear in the same sentence again. Everyone who started to build a career from that initial moment has grown and evolved and moved on, but none have put more distance between them and their press-anointed inception than Bundick. On Underneath The Pines a couple of years ago, he was already pushing toward a squelchy, psychedelic sort of soul-pop, a one-man genre built from stray moments on old Stevie Wonder albums. And even at first, he had more Dilla than Ariel Pink in him. But Anything In Return is the moment where Bundick has broken away completely and built something resembling a concrete persona, developing a matter-of-fact disco-pop slickness that sounds way sharper and more defined than anything he’s done before. His music doesn’t sound like he recorded it in an amniotic gloop-chamber, and it doesn’t evoke lost memories of watching Superhuman Samurai Cyber Squad. Instead, it’s exceedingly well-realized studio-pop music, music with all its moving parts in place. And in the exceedingly small category of “dorked-out but somehow effortlessly smooth half-black/half-Filipino soul-pop singer/producers beloved of Tyler, The Creator” the Bundick of Anything In Return has come to rival circa-2002 Pharrell. That’s a pretty staggering achievement, all told.

That’s not to say Bundick has broken completely from the music he made before; he hasn’t. As you delve deep into Anything In Return, the queasy textures and searching sincerity and Dilla-fried bass-wobbles start to reappear. But now, those things are working to serve simple and elegant pop songs — love songs, usually, or songs about losing yourself in another person. Bundick’s not the type to slather reverb on his voice, and his thin and unshowy tenor has become more confident; he’s pushing it further to the front of the mix. I promise not to keep bringing up Pharrell, but the way Bundick’s built these elaborate tracks around his own decidedly unspectacular voice reminds me of the way Skateboard P interrupted Jay-Z’s godly party-flow on “I Just Wanna Love U” so that he could bust out his terrible Curtis Mayfield impression and somehow sound badass doing it. (Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor is also a good comparison point here; there’s a level of suave/dweeby intersection at work that we mere mortals will probably never figure out.) Bundick’s voice shouldn’t work for these expertly-assembled pleasure-machine tracks, but it does, and the ballsiness of putting that voice front and center only makes the entire thing cooler.

About those tracks: God knows how many studio-hours Bundick put into this thing, but unlike Causers Of This, Anything In Return absolutely does not sound like something you could make at home on a laptop. The individual sounds are hard and bell-clear, and they’re woven through the songs with definite purpose. Bundick knows when to let the piano float in, when to take away the vintage-synth gasp-loop, how long to let the beat ride. The title of first single “So Many Details” doesn’t refer to all the pings and tingles he throws into the track, but it could. And when a chorus of thunderous taiko-style drums shows up for the last minute of the song, it’s just thrillingly out-of-place enough to drive the song further home. And I haven’t even talked about the opening one-two punch of “Harm In Change” and “Say That,” which feel something like a thrown gauntlet at the entire idea of that c-word. These songs keep Bundick’s breezy romanticism intact, but they’re hard and chilly dance tracks, with house-diva moans and lonely horn-bursts and BPMs that just pound. Near the end of “Say That,” a sample of a rapper saying “yeah” become a part of the beat, and it somehow adds to the propulsion rather than distracting. “Harm In Change” hasn’t even become a single yet, but the two songs already number among my favorite singles of the year.

The HARRYS-directed videos for “So Many Details” and “Say That” give visual accompaniment to the sonic makeover that Bundick has given himself with this album. Suddenly, he’s chilling in forests, on mountaintop chalets, wearing mock-turtlenecks and somehow making them work. He’s boarding a Cessna and splaying out on mossy ground and making time with a ridiculously beautiful girl. The whole ’70s-playboy act doesn’t hide Bundick’s innate gawkiness, but that gawkiness becomes contained and comfortable, just as it does within the songs themselves. This whole thing is, of course, an act, on some level at least. In this interview, Bundick talks about how he was trying to make straight-up pop on this album, and how he doesn’t think he’ll make an album like this again. I don’t want to argue with Bundick’s thinking there; lord knows he’s talented enough to pull off whatever style he picks next. But good lord, he’s good at this stuff.

Anything In Return is out now on Carpark. Stream it here.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Foxygen’s flowery and idiosyncratic psych-pop debut We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic.
• FIDLAR’s charged-up, hedonistic, proudly punk self-titled debut.
• Widowspeak’s spindly reverb-folk follow-up Almanac.
• Ra Ra Riot’s slicker and synthier indie-pop LP Beta Love.
• The Joy Formidable’s crashing, larger-than-life alt-rock sophomore effort Wolf’s Law.
• Bad Religion’s reliably anthemic True North.
• Mountains’ blissed-out, reassuring half-acoustic drone LP Centralia.
• Hilly Eye’s stark and pretty debut Reasons To Live.
• Nosaj Thing’s beat-dazed and collab-heavy return Home.
• Esben & The Witch’s dark, evocative, postpunky Wash The Sins Not Only The Face.
• Young Fathers’ fractured, globalist rap-expressionist Tape One.
• Shugo Tokumaru’s orchestral psychedelic album In Focus?
• FaltyDL’s atmospheric beat-music long-player Hardcourage.
• Camper Van Beethoven’s reunion effort La Costa Perdida.
• Guided By Voices billionth self-released EP Down By The Racetrack.
• Birdy Nam Nam’s crunchy EDM EP Defiant Order.

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Comments (39)
  1. I thought Underneath the Pines was really sharp and clear. To me Anything in Return has a murky, submerged quality similar to Causers of This, although the songwriting has improved. One thing I’d note is that it seems like his production ideas are outpacing his singing ability, but that’s not the most important issue if the ideas are there.

  2. Is Foxygen the new MGMT?

  3. Just wanted to let people know – one of Bad Religion’s new songs is free on iTunes now.

  4. I don’t think this is very good. For one thing, I’m not as eager to cast aside chillwave as a bad family picture when everybody was actually really mad at eachother. I like this album, I liked the other Toro y Moi albums, but this is disappointing to me because it’s (god I’m actually going to use this phrase to describe music) monochromatic. I want Chaz to really hit me on an emotional level, and while you’re right to say his the songs on this album are more personal and lovelorn, there’s still something about the SOUND of it that is too disaffected to really connect. I think of Tom Krell as a hyper-emotional antecedent, and I wish Chaz had approached him just a bit more this go-round.

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  6. Toro Y Moi and Foxygen killed it. Class acts. First two “great” albums so far this year for me.

  7. Guys, I think that this is a really solid album. It feels cohesive. I had a hard time with it (TWSS) at first, because “So Many Details” is easily my favourite thing he’s done. That beat is flawless. The rest of the album is just solid as an all-bran dump too. real enjoyable and efficient. the issue i’m having right now is that i can’t immerse myself in it. i dont know why. it’s something i love to put on and just have in my life, doing its thing. don’t got dondon wrong, it is excellent, i just haven’t given it the time it deserves, but it also hasn’t made me do that. sometimes i need the push, just like an all-bran D in the T.

    That said, disclosure has been commanding pretty much all of dontonia’s attention these days. white noise? too good. this year’s climax? most probs.

    3.5/5 white noise’s

    -D

    • I didn’t “get” that Disclosure song. I listened to a few other tracks and like their approach, but I didn’t care for AlunaGeorge’s voice.

      • YOU TAKE THAT BACK

        Aluna has the voice of an angel

        (I understand your opinion, I’m just offended you could say something about my girlfriend like that)

        • I’d hate for your relationship to be in an argumentative turmoil because of my first impression.

          I take it back. Especially since I have this new Knife track…

      • i really like her voice. there’s something that’s just so british about it. probably the british accent that she sings with. papi likey.

  8. Awesome. This was awesome.

    Foxygen is awesome.
    FIDLAR is awesome.
    Esben & the Witch…awesome.
    Ra Ra Riot is good and The Joy Formidable still formidable.

    First awesome week of music in 2013.

    Awesome.

  9. Well Tobias Funke is on the album cover, so it has to be pretty good.

  10. Another album of note that came out yesterday was Dawn Richards “Goldenheart”. Unfortunately, it’s not as decently unconventional (by R’n'B standards) as her previous two EPs.

  11. Did anyone listen to the Torres debut album that came out yesterday? It is so dark and lovely.

  12. Id give this week to FIDLAR for sure. Never been a fan of Toro or Foxygen (although I LOVE Make It Known from their ep, weird that I havent enjoy anything else theyve done)

  13. OK, maybe it’s just me, but I am starting to be more annoyed with the overly malicious attitude towards the “chillwave” genre than I ever was with the genre or its name in the first place. I guess I don’t understand why now all of a sudden we’re calling it the “c-word” and want to attack anything that smacks of it, yet nearly every band that came from that blip of time has gone on to do some really great stuff. It’s a goofy moniker, sure. Is that all it is? The name sucked? If so, why was that the bands’ fault? At any rate, it’s getting old having to pretend like it was just “SUCH AN EMBARRASSING TIME FOR MUSIC!” or something.

    Having said that, I’m really digging this new Toro y Moi. Need to soak it in a little more, but I love the style. It’s easy to submerse yourself in its textures, or just have on in the background.

    • On a related note…it’s not hard for me to discern why the term “dubstep” has degraded to the point where washing one’s mouth out with soap is an acceptable remedy.

    • I agree. I really liked and still like a lot of the albums that fall under the chillwave umbrella, not to mention what many of the bands have become (Neon Indian, TyM, Memory Tapes, etc). I don’t really undertand the backlash. The litteral need to explicitly distance oneself from ChillyChillwave is more fucking annoying then just letting those albums live in 2009 and those bands live in 2013.

      • Exactly. Some of my favorite bands/albums of the last few years have been from the “chillwave” group. Goofy or not, the word itself still has a very positive connotation to me in that regard, as I associate it with some of my favorite music of the last half-decade or so. Why all of a sudden should I feel like I just cussed out my grandma for using it? And like I said above, it’s not like “dubstep” where the term has obviously been thrown around by teenagers so much that it’s lost all appeal. I certainly don’t like calling Burial or James Blake “dubstep” anymore, but then again I don’t feel I need to in order to enjoy their music either.

        Anyway…names are stupid. Lets just enjoy the tunes.

  14. The new Joy Formidable is pretty great, but I think the album of the week is probably This Town Needs Guns’ “13.0.0.0.0″. I think they solidified their sound and put an excellent second record.

  15. Several commenters seem eager to crown what they deem some of the year’s “great” albums so far, but there’s one pretty glaring omission from most of the lists: I beseech all of you to not sleep on Yo La Tengo’s “Fade.” Like many YLT albums it’s a bit of a grower, but I’ll be damned if it’s not just as good if not better than anything they’ve done in the 2ks. It’s rare that I do any beseeching, so yeah, I’m pretty serious about this.

  16. That Foxygen album is a hoot. Makes me wanna, oh ya know, bowl, drive around, take on an occasional acid flashback.

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