January 29, 2013 2 comments
“Don’t let me hold you down
You could be there now
And I’d rather drive it through the night
It’s only one more day
Till we leave this state
And I know she thinks I’ve changed my mind”
That concerned soliloquy opens Toro Y Moi’s third studio album, Anything in Return. Chaz Bundick’s words are cushioned by echoing synth and feather light keyboard strokes and, those familiar with Toro’s stellar sophomore effort, Underneath the Pine, can identify these devices as “vintage Chaz.” Familiarity and comfortability are essentially Stage 1 stratagem for an artist so aware of his tightly confined parameters, so just when opener “Harm in Change” lulls the listener in with the above quote’s initial sweetness, Bundick reveals a snare drum beat and chopped sample hidden within the grain. Anything in Return begins by using old motifs to veil subtle (yet contextually exorbitant) progressions, all simply by utilizing Chaz’s most under-recognized tool: delicacy.
Lead single, “So Many Details” — which may or may not be channelling Radiohead’s “Bloom”, early on — takes this gossamery trend and contorts distant, futuristic MiDi inflections, timorous piano and sparse guitar to craft a smooth R&B ballad about two lovers drifting, slowly and painfully, apart. The docility of the track follows a linearity that climaxes with Bundick asking “what happened to us?” But, where, in the past, Toro might let this climax pensively linger in its own adornment, “So Many Details” accentuates the (now) frantic referential couplet, “You send my life, into somewhere / I can’t describe, so many details”, with racing conga drums and more intense, staccato guitar strokes. The willingness Bundick has to allow his sound to become more abrasive and vulnerable might be the most valuable asset of Anything in Return.
Underneath the Pine and, to an even more specific extent, his 2011 Freaking Out EP boasted some blatant funk and 80’s pop pastiche, (especially the aptly titled “Sweet”) but that modicum of Toro’s skill set seems to be a remote influence now (with the clear exception of “Never Matter”) considering the variation present here. The predictability of Chaz’s drum loops, atmospheric dissonance and subdued melodies were all tropes of an artist content with allowing the listener to affix additional substance between the ambiance, but tracks like “High Living” and “Say That” self-sustain via huge, earworm hooks and an evident motivation by Bundick to seek out every inch of the soundscapes he paints.
Late last year, Chaz held listening parties in San Francisco and Brooklyn featuring 13 original drawings to correspond with each track on the album. Ranging from abstract to boldly purposeful, Bundick’s often sententious artwork speaks to the process of which this album’s most breathtaking moments come about (there is that one with the decapitated, smiling duck… ?) The eerie, backtracked vocals on “Touch” that seem to pulsate with each sentence punctuation, the the fat, James Blake-esque chords on “Cola”, the pure blissful pop and bounce of closer “How’s it Wrong”; Toro, while still working with access to the same color pallet, is certainly applying his creativity to a newer, more textured canvas.
If there’s one complaint that holds any weight with a record as limn and meticulous as this, it’s the delivery. And, specifically, Bundick’s vocal delivery. Hyperbolic as it may seem, Chaz’s voice is obviously the least accomplished instrument in his personal orchestra. I liken this drawback to that of Miike Snow vocalist Andrew Wyatt; a singer who’s gifted with song structures that are so sound and impenetrable at times that it doesn’t matter who sings them. That luxury is a gift and a curse, seeing that neither (Bundick, equally so) can find the range to take some of the potentially more triumphant moments, (the bright refrain of “Rose Quartz”, the entirety of “Cake”) and really turn them into something powerful. There’s a zeal and spontaneity that doesn’t quite fit the calculated groove Chaz likes to rest in.
Within the milieu of the complete project, these are minor grievances. What Anything in Return accomplishes isn’t solely achieved by vocals. The unification of tried and true subtleties (which, for most, may be the typical characteristics of the, now seemingly anachronistic, “chillwave”) is expected when entering a Toro Y Moi album, but what this LP provides is variations within those confines — splashes of reggae-fusion, (“Day One”) backup singing working in tandem with vocal samples (“Grown Up Calls”) and even some cowbell for good measure on the aforementioned “Harm in Change”. Toro doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, and he certainly doesn’t reinvent himself. But, if you listen delicately enough, he may just reinvent the way you listen to him.
1. Toro Y Moi – Harm in Change Lyrics
2. Toro Y Moi – Say That Lyrics
3. Toro Y Moi – So Many Details Lyrics
4. Toro Y Moi – Rose Quartz Lyrics
5. Toro Y Moi – Touch Lyrics
6. Toro Y Moi – Cola Lyrics
7. Toro Y Moi – Studies Lyrics
8. Toro Y Moi – High Living Lyrics
9. Toro Y Moi – Grown Up Calls Lyrics
10. Toro Y Moi – Cake Lyrics
11. Toro Y Moi – Day One Lyrics
12. Toro Y Moi – Never Matter Lyrics
13. Toro Y Moi – How’s It Wrong Lyrics