Toro y Moi, 'Anything in Return'
Chilling out to music has never been easier. We have the icy folk of Bon Iver, the barely overcast guitar jangles of Real Estate and Washed Out’s wispy, postmodern blueprint of synthesizers. The desire of groups like these is to create an architecture of sound for the listener’s thoughts and responses. We’re not talking open spaces here, nothing ambient and overly exploratory. Chill-out bands, folksy, electronic or somewhere in between, know their sonic walkabouts have to be short, sweet and crystalline. The lyrics are never that straightforward, usually suggestions asking for interpretations as wide as the spectrum of human consciousness. Alongside the recent releases by the trendsetters of chilled out, wandering jams steps Toro y Moi’s third full length album, Anything in Return.
Toro y Moi is a pseudonym for one Chazwick Bundick. A University of South Carolina grad, major in graphic design, he’s always had a habit of bringing a visual flair to the sounds he creates. A glance at Anything in Return’s cover shows Bundick’s bespectacled likeness in a psychedelic splash of colors. Its no surprise, since his songs play as evasive as rainbows. Smooth, easy and aware of their place in the background. He’s not asking for you to sing along to his music but just to let it inform your day with occasional moments of quiet awe and soft-spoken brightness.
In comparison to his previous work, Anything in Return is his old sound wiped Windex clean. Its not that he’s necessarily gone and learned new tricks but that he’s learned to do his old ones with doves and white tigers. The tinny grain and laptop-perched-on-a-bathtub recording quality of his previous LPs were part of what made Toro y Moi so compelling in the first place. Bundick was doing this all by himself and the lack of finesse actually added to the overall aesthetic. An older record like Underneath the Pine permits an easy game of make-believe: the songs therein sounded like a personally compiled demo tape for the listener. Anything in Return’s increase in sonic clarity doesn’t detract from any of its tunes but its a bittersweet decrease in his former work’s personality.
Single “So Many Details” is actually one of the less accomplished tracks on the record, its high-pitched keyboard runs sounding like Passion Pit echoing from a cave miles away. Toro y Moi is thoroughly album oriented in his approach, moreso than his chillwave counterparts. Washed Out has the Portlandia theme song, “Feel It All Around,” and Neon Indian’s “Polish Girl” seems to become more instantly recognizable every day. Not to say Toro y Moi is incapable of writing great one-off songs because those have certainly showed up on past albums. Anything in Return doesn’t seem to have a clear favorite song choice for its listeners but instead an overall feel generated by letting it all play through from beginning to end.
That being said, some tracks are more eminently and immediately listenable than others. “Say That” gets close to Moby’s playground with its blippy sampling of soulful singing and one-two-one-two keyboard stabs. “Cola” has some delightful synth swirls, calming and cool. “High Living” is a bit more varied in its chord progressions and arrangements than the other songs on the record. But overall, all the songs on this album seem to bleed into one another without totally losing their originality. Past releases June 2009 and Underneath the Pine definitely did a better job of making coherency and track-to-track difference gel though.
Anything in Return is elevator music in a world gone right. Music without the ambition to wow or impress with flamboyance but to exist as a sort of pleasant supplement. Toro y Moi’s latest is not hoping to be anyone’s favorite album but the go-to background soundtrack for when homework needs to get done or dishes have to get washed. It’s not his strongest release but certainly his most cohesive and clear.