Toro Y Moi
Anything In Return - CARPARK
FILTER Grade: 85%
By Zachary Sniderman; photo by Andrew Paynter on January 22, 2013
Chaz Bundick, the hero and creative mind behind Toro Y Moi, has said over and over again that he just wants to make good pop music. Anyone who has heard his blissed-out, funk-based beats realizes that pipe dream might be a little ways off. It’s probably unnecessary to mention here that Anything in Return, Bundick’s third record as Toro Y Moi, isn’t quite “California Gurls.” Musically, though, it’s the very best thing Toro Y Moi has accomplished, with complex rhythms and attentive, near-perfect production—distinct essentials that have prevented all of Bundick’s tunes from fading into blips of obscurity.
In 2010, Toro Y Moi released Causers of This, a debut record that launched a thousand chillwaves alongside the likes of Washed Out’s Life of Leisure EP and Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms. Bundick addressed the curious genre he had unwittingly joined in an immediate follow-up 13 months later, the live and textural Underneath the Pine. Meanwhile, he has made friends with Tyler, The Creator; remixed both Washed Out and Neon Indian; put out a joint EP with Cloud Nothings; repped Tame Impala and created side projects from the club-bouncing Les Sins to the experimental Sides of Chaz. It’s good to be busy, but this level of reach and curiosity makes it tricky to keep it simple, stupid. It’s clear that Bundick is either too distracted or too smart to “just make a pop album.”
On Anything in Return, any four-on-the-floor beat has a twist. Any lyrics on love come out angular and mysterious. “High Living” is a slow vamp of chirping synths and bouncing bass. “Never Matter” pops like a bottle of Perrier, the instruments bubbling over a tight snare and round bass groove. The last, delayed stab of synth at the four-minute mark here shows Bundick’s mastery and control of pacing and dynamics. “Cola,” one of the record’s best, borrows heavily from ’80s funk but with stuttering drums and the looping, indistinctly breathy vocal samples that have become the artist’s signature sound. But with lyrics like “I wish I could be there/See you every day/I don’t have to call you,” the song—like much of Anything in Return—recalls the nostalgic melancholy of Underneath the Pine and reaches out toward the fundamental dynamics of the genre Bundick so studiously wishes to master.
Underneath the Pine came to us in 2011 shrouded in death due to the then-recent passing of a close friend of Bundick’s. It was live and raw, and demonstrated Bundick coming to terms not just with mortality but the suburban struggle of living at home and the necessity of growing up. Even though Anything in Return musically builds tremendously on the high standard set by Underneath the Pine, it’s a step back lyrically. The album is indistinctly about love (a pop music plus, natch) but lacks a narrative touchstone or an easy way to connect with Bundick. Successful pop music relies on easy access points, a connection, and on Anything on Return, it’s undeniably the dancefloor rather than the words Bundick weaves, which are most effective as musical texture.
As to influences, Anything in Return is an expert, myriad blend of subterranean retro designed to please fans of sampling, funk, jazz, chillwave (yes, chillwave), synth rock, shoegaze and a number of other journalist-created terms for the new and nebulous genre that Bundick has helped create, foster and push the limits of. Anything in Return is the most blatantly old school of Toro Y Moi’s records. Where Causers of This was a sample-heavy start and Underneath the Pine was a live experiment gone right, Anything in Return is an homage to Bundick’s musical heroes. Sometimes this formula skirts a fine line between acid jazz (“Harm in Change,” “So Many Details”) and other times it gels into something more, like on lead single “Say That.”
So where does that leave the album? A little unbalanced, Anything in Return nevertheless showcases again just how good its maker is at his craft. Pop music this certainly is not, but Bundick’s talents at furthering an ever-adapting genre into something far more interesting are plenty satisfying.