Album Review: Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return

Behind the veil of Toro Y Moi is Chazwick Bundick, a twenty-something who many associate with the rise of chillwave. Perhaps it is this chillwave affiliation that does Bundick a disservice, as his progression as an artist reveals someone with unique inspiration and defined goals. His latest work, Anything In Return, expands beyond chillwave, beyond his first two albums, as Chaz takes off the veil and lets his personality seep through.

Before Anything In Return was released, Bundick stated that it was his intention to make a more straightforward pop album. He aimed to steer away from his usual laid back, experimental style and more towards catchy Top 40 hits. To his credit, he has in a sense achieved this, with an album where not a single terrible track can be found. While thankfully not venturing into cliché, the album is Toro Y Moi’s most straightforward work yet. It is in this that Anything In Return finds an honest yet nostalgic identity.

Anything In Return starts on a remarkably high note, with “Harm In Change”, “Say That”, “So Many Details” and “Rose Quartz” leading the charge. Each of the songs bring hypnotizing vibrancy to the album, instilling an urge to really listen and embrace the soundscapes that Bundick creates. “Harm In Change” has a charming mystery about it, a jazzy aural landscape with finesse. It demands attention, deservedly so. The three tracks that follow it achieve something similar, injecting a personality into the album through distinctive instrumentation. Anything In Return arouses personality with its jazz nostalgia, its disco-pop influences and its catchy melodies. Every minute brings you deeper into the music itself.

“Rose Quartz” is the key to this personality, exuding a beautiful atmosphere. Swaths of synthesizers wrap around a driven groovy beat, pacing along wonderfully. It charms in its simplicity, in its honesty, as Bundick calmly delivers: “Don’t let me go / Because I feel weak”. Hate on the lyrics all you want, but they fit perfectly well into the Toro Y Moi style and approach. While laughable lyrics can often ruin a song, the gushy mainstream words voiced by Bundick are never cause for concern. He keeps himself under control and allows for the instruments to be the voice of his album.

With such importance placed on the instruments, many of the songs on Anything In Return fall flat. For instance, “Touch” comes across as lacking direction, not really aware of what it wants to be. It’s good, but it plays like ambient filler, more welcome on a Nicolas Jaar LP than Toro Y Moi. “Cake” is one case where Bundick knew what he wanted it to be, that being a mainstream pop track. Bordering on radio friendliness Bundick sings, “Imma be her boy forever”, while glittering synthesizers guide the beat along.  It’s poppy, it’s cheesy, and, save for the redeeming beat, it seems disingenuous.

Much of the middle portion of Toro Y Moi’s third effort plays this way, exhibiting weak direction amidst interesting instrumental concepts. None of the songs are downright terrible, but there is nothing outwardly special or captivating about “Studies” or “Day One” or “High Living”. It’s not until the final two songs on the album, “Never Matter” and “How’s It Wrong”, that the pace quickens again and Anything In Return revitalizes itself. “Never Matter” bounds along with energetic, distorted bass and crisp piano chords, swirling through your eardrums with moments of spacey grandeur. “How’s It Wrong” plays the piano chords even better, immediately boasting a soulful atmosphere and swagger met with abstract synthesizers sweeping throughout.

“How It’s Wrong” is sexy, well paced, and it has charm, something that many songs on this album achieve. Unfortunately, Anything In Return’s stellar sounds are slightly marred by inconsistent ones. But, these inconsistencies can be overlooked, and are overshadowed by the personality roused over the course of its thirteen songs. Some of the songs fall short of evoking a worthwhile presence, but many, such as “Rose Quartz” or “Harm In Change”, bring Toro Y Moi’s hardships and experiences and love and loss to the forefront.

Anything In Return is our descent into Bundick’s mind and, for the most part, it’s an enjoyable and diverse musical journey. One thing that is definitely clear, Toro Y Moi has moved beyond chillwave. He now inhabits a musical space where jazz can fuse with electropop or pop can accentuate a hip-hop vibe. Chazwick Bundick has found his personality.

Words by Adrian McCavour