words by MATT CONOVER
The Chaz Bundick project known as Toro y Moi is probably most readily associated with the subgenre known as chillwave––according to legend, a genre he pioneered. The songs on his first two studio albums feel far away, aloof; they hide emotion rather than present it plainly. His is a style that demands multiple spins, to let it all wash over you again and again.
Or perhaps it was.
Bundick has said that Anything In Return is a pop album, and in that respect he has succeeded in making the album he set out to make. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pop, but if you’re reading this website right now or even considering buying/acquiring the new Toro y Moi album, chances are you don’t have the top forty station preset on your radio. And obviously there’s also nothing wrong with changing your sound either, but in this case it creates something of a problem, on paper anyways. It becomes this: Bundick has changed his aesthetic away from what he built his career on to something which (I’m assuming) most of his fanbase only harbors disdain for. And not just a passive intolerance of pop (and now I may only be speaking for myself), but a knee-jerk, “why is this shit even in your iTunes” aversion.
But that’s not how I react to Anything in Return, and doubt that it will induce skip button spasms in any of you either. Though there are two songs, “Cake” and “Day One,” where I consistently find myself thinking, “this sounds like Toro trying to do pop.” These songs, and moments elsewhere on the album, feel too put on, the shiny pop too in your face. “Cake” begins in the realm of sincerity but it immediately veers off to absurd cheesiness. The phrase, “Imma be her boy forever” will probably never feel at home on a Toro y Moi song. While there’s subversion of the apparent happiness presented in the song, it’s very difficult to get past the cornball lyrics. “Day One” takes a similar, transparently “this is radio friendly pop!” stance––the emotions are shoved into the spotlight instead of hidden in the groove. This pair of tracks is more One Direction than chillwave, but they’re not poorly made, I just don’t believe Bundick when he sings “I look at her and she’s all I want.” He just doesn’t sell it, and it’s far too often cringe-inducing.
The final act of Anything In Return actually makes me crave Underneath The Pine, and in particular the catchy refinement of “Elise.” In my week of Toro y Moi listening, I ended up playing that song as many times as I did the new album. But that’s not to say that this album is lacking in catchy refinement, though. It opens with four stunning tracks, which, like “Elise,” offer satisfaction in subtle progressions more so than through dinosaur-sized choruses. “Rose Quartz” exemplifies the best of this brand of pop, building its momentum by quietly adding different synth elements, percussion and tastefully manipulated vocal samples. “I feel weak,” cries one again and again as the song winds down. Despite the repeated declarations of frailty, the song, much like the stone it’s named after (“Rose Quartz is the stone of unconditional love and infinite peace,” according to The Crystal Bible), is beautiful in a way that exudes and inspires love in its complex but remarkably cohesive structure.
The rest of the album contains an array of aesthetic flavors that are both interesting and accessible. Some, like “Touch,” simply create a sonic room, just to “fill it with stone.” And while the filling in of an emotional hole/space created by unsuccessful love doesn’t seem all that interesting or accessible, its lounge feel and Nicolas Jaar-like sparsity give it depth far beyond what you might expect from a pop song that essentially communicates the message, “I’m hurt.” The next song, “Cola,” makes brief use of a James Blake-ian synthesizer sound, and then, following it, “Studies” makes use of something which immediately reminds me of Delicate Steve’s distinct, screechy guitars.
The brew of Anything In Return is strong enough that its overly sugary moments don’t ruin the experience of the album, and it’s certainly strong enough to merit many, many plays. The pop of Chaz Bundick sounds almost as good as his so-called chillwave, and it certainly feels just as vital. [B]
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