06 January 2013

[Album Review] Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return

posted by: Tom Album Reviews | Reviews
Anything In Return

When I first heard “So Many Details,” Toro Y Moi‘s first single off his new album, Anything In Return, I was slouched in the driver’s seat of my Subaru Impreza, halfway through an automated carwash tunnel as soap and water slid down my windshield. You can imagine how that went. Suddenly, the bubbles and water droplets slowed down, moved with the music and I curiously began to contemplate the meaning of life — in a car wash — as if this was a schmoozy self-appropriation scene from Garden State. Except in this case it was total psychedelia, tripping balls, etc. Your basic Toro Y Moi experience.

Truth be told, I really wanted to write this review within one week of listening, but that proved impossible. There is simply too much going on within this record to understand the whole thing after a week. There is no “Still Sound” to be found here, nothing quite that simple. I’m actually still a little lost as I write this, but I will say that if anything helped, Chaz Bundick’s video for his single “Say That” certainly steered me in the right direction.

You have to accept the fact that, above all else, Chaz Bundick likes to groove. Sometimes he foregoes appropriate melodies and opts to create some random glitchy shit that sounds cool as long as he can bump his leg to a beat. You have to understand this before you begin to judge what you’re hearing. On top of that, Chaz really digs going into absurd amounts of technical detail, down to the last snippet, even if it takes away from the accessibility. That’s a dangerous combination from a sales perspective, and I suspect even those who take pride in the indie scene will admit that Bundick’s adherence to a strictly organic and loose product will cost him money on a few of these songs.

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Take standout track “Rose Quartz,” for example. Bundick spends a full two minutes building up to the lyrical half of the song when perhaps one minute of introduction would have sufficed — it repeats and repeats until you almost lose it. And it’s a devastatingly sick beat, my goodness, but the impatient will have turned it off before the song really gets going.

Of course, if you ask Bundick, those two minutes are full of funky hip-shaking action and if you aren’t enjoying yourself, you know what? Screw the impatient.

The funny thing about all of this is that by far, Anything In Return is the most pop-viable album Toro Y Moi has ever released — it’s drenched in pop lullabies to girls and in themes of desire, sadness, boredom, etc. And for the all the pop it possesses, Anything In Return will likely fade from the public’s eye before a major radio station decides to pick up its singles. It sticks too tightly to Chaz’s convictions and doesn’t lend the uninformed listener enough help. His product features this generation’s brand of beats, yet it requires a Baby Boomer’s attention span to absorb. It really doesn’t stand a chance with everyone who thinks “Thrift Shop” is Macklemore’s only worthwhile song.

And that’s a shame, because this is one damn good album.

Call it the musical version of “Arrested Development.” If you get it, then OH MY GOD YOU GET IT and you can’t get enough. But if you don’t get it, you want it smashed with a bulldozer because everyone likes it and you can’t for the life of you figure out why. This is nothing new for Toro Y Moi fans, I’m sure, but it’s so interesting to see Bundick’s major leap towards a pop record still result in handcuffed funk flavor. It’s so close to a home run for everyone, yet it’s slightly odd enough and unique enough to keep the cult fans drooling and the interested newcomers confused.

Once again, that’s part of what makes this album is so good. It’s textured, it’s deep and it’s full of surprises everywhere, even if a few songs tend to get overwhelming at first. It’s pop before pop gets stripped down to the basics and spread to the masses like fast food. Some of the hooks, lines and mood-setters feel classic already, while others may take months for you to fully understand and appreciate until you approach them from different angles or in different settings.

Like I said, Chaz likes to have fun with his machinery. He pushes all of the elevator buttons.

“So Many Details” is a personal favorite, and it’s in part because Bundick structures it so perfectly. Everything builds up to a fantastic finish — he doesn’t release his arsenal all at once, a temptation he falls prey to at times. You get to soak in every individual aspect of the song at first — the beat, the synths, the storyline with the girl who he spends nearly all 13 songs singing about — and then it all molds together like complimentary colors on a tie dye shirt that I could easily picture Bundick wearing out on a date.

Bundick is all about setting the mood with his music, and he approaches all sorts of moods here. From the tense, tumbling “Harm In Change,” to the funky, flirty “Say That,” to the reflective “Cola,” to the stoner-swagged out “High Living,” to the confident and soaring “Cake.” It’s all here, and all of it in so many details. And while certain moments don’t come together like they should, there are some short, yet significant bright spots — the sobering ending of “Grown Up Calls” as it winds down to a Donnie Darko-sounding dark delicacy, the simple lyrical section of “Rose Quartz,” or the hazy reverb of “Cola” as it exits its first verse.

This isn’t the masterpiece third album that an artist with Bundick’s talent could put together — it’s a little too all over the place and lacks any sort of linear approach. At the same time, it’s easy to tell that Bundick wasn’t crossing his fingers for our approval and probably couldn’t care less. He clearly does want something in return, despite what he sings on “High Living,” but I don’t think we are the ones who can give it to him. As far as what he can do for us? If you firmly remain entrenched inside Bundick’s tent of creativity and make the appropriate concessions before giving his work a try, within those boundaries and those rules, Anything In Return might be as good as it gets, and that’s good news for those who understand.

The exciting part, obviously: What if he decides to break through those barriers next time around? I guess I’ll keep kidding myself.

Album Rating: 8.6/10

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