Toro y Moi made a name for himself as one of the pioneers of the slow-groove electronic genre chillwave, and for collaborations like his trippy remix of Tyler, the Creator’s “French.” The solo artist and producer, born Chazwick Bradley Bundick, released his third album “Anything in Return” on Jan. 16.
The follow-up to 2011’s “Underneath the Pine” begins with “Harm in Change,” a pulsating jam that finds Bundick telling a lover “don’t let me hold you down.” The track’s compelling chord progression is made more exciting by the gradual addition of new instruments, such as a distorted synth that sounds like a trombone and hi-hats straight out of the disco era.
After “Say That,” a 12-second interlude that sounds like an excerpt of an unfinished track, “So Many Details” begins with a dreamy synth before hard hip-hop percussion a la The Weeknd enters. Bundick fights feelings for an ex over an array of sounds, ranging from Nintendo 8-bits to tribal drumming and guitars. The track manages a groovy flow despite its strange assortment of instruments.
“Rose Quartz” is closer to Toro y Moi’s previous chillwave sound, with a simple four-on-the-floor beat and a synth riff in the background that grows from a subtle beeping to a woozy alarm that is pitch-shifted in and out of the song’s key but never distracts too much from the rest of it.
On “Touch,” Bundick declares, “The room is empty / fill it with stone.” It’s sonically unique but its stuttered vocal and repetitive clicking grow boring quickly.
The next track, “Cola,” is one of the most accessible on the album. On it, Bundick pairs piano chords and hard-hitting drums with a hypnotizing synth loop that fades in and out of the background.
“Studies” is less interesting, with a vocal melody that grows old and a bongo-infused groove that will inspire dancing until you grow tired of it. In addition, Bundick’s falsetto takes away more from the song than it adds to it.
The album’s eighth track, “High Living,” is one of the album’s highlights, with Bundick proclaiming, “You and me can be what we wanna be.” The vocals are some of his best, too, most exciting when he declares, “We’ll be living high, high, high.” The electric piano chord progressions are some of the jazziest on the album.
“Grown Up Calls” is framed, perhaps not so fittingly, by the “la la la la la la la la” that begins the song and eventually bleeds in and out of a pulsating synth playing the same note. The song also features a soft vocal and piano that sounds straight out of a recital, and somehow Bundick makes this odd combination work, making “Calls” another album standout.
“Cake” is a pretty love ditty in which Bundick sings, “I’ma be her boy forever.” Its wide synth chords hearken back to Bundick’s chillwave sound and its guitar outro is the softest moment on “Anything in Return.”
“Day One” is another love song, albeit more percussion-oriented than “Cake.” Over auto-tuned “oh”s Bundick states “I wanna make my life your life,” and later a line we can all relate to: “We were kids acting way too old.”
Vocal samples, like a deep “ugh!” and a Michael Jackson-esque “oh” abound on “Never Matter,” the album’s penultimate track. It’s a four-on-the-floor thumper with ’80s synths and a stunning instrumental conclusion.
The final track, “How’s it Wrong,” is just OK – unremarkable for the most part until switching gears to the luscious synth outro that closes the album.
“Anything in Return” shows few signs of inspiration from the chillwave genre Toro y Moi is most often associated with, but it is a logical continuation of the unique electronic sound he has built on his last few releases. It draws from a range of unique influences, from disco to hip-hop to R&B, meaning most listeners can find something on it that they enjoy. It’s a unique – but oftentimes accessible – body of music that is worth taking a listen to.
Jake Reed can be reached at email@example.com.