Toro y Moi grows musically

Toro y Moi combines a variety of musical influences in Anything In Return, his most recent album. (credit: Courtesy of blikeng via Flickr) Toro y Moi combines a variety of musical influences in Anything In Return, his most recent album. (credit: Courtesy of blikeng via Flickr)

It’s hard to break out of a genre that you helped define. Perhaps no one knows that better than recording artist Chaz Bundick (also known by his stage name Toro y Moi), who in his most recent album Anything In Return has managed to do just that.

As a pioneer of the chillwave genre just a few years ago, Bundick became known for swirling sonic explorations in his debut album Causers of This. But in his new album, he trades the low-fidelity samples for a clean production style that combines a wide range of musical influences.

Bundick recently told Pitchfork, “The album’s about me trying to be a better person” — and this sentiment is tangible throughout the album. From the honest lyricism to the array of musical influences, Bundick is no doubt trying his hardest — and succeeding.

In recent years, Bundick has become known for incorporating many genres into his own pop-focused conglomerate of funk, R&B, soul, house, and rock; Anything In Return takes that to the next level. Here, his combinations feel effortless and natural. Listening to the album, there’s never a doubt about whose music it is, but you’ll constantly be surprised by the sounds Bundick introduces.

The vocals in Anything In Return are the strongest of any Toro y Moi album. While his last full-length album, Underneath the Pine, features a heavier focus on his voice, it seems that Bundick has gained enough confidence in his vocal strength to really pull it off in Anything In Return. Lines like, “Don’t let me go / ‘cause I feel weak” on the track “Rose Quartz” are more believable than his previous efforts at heartfelt lyricism.

A few songs on the 13-track album do fall flat, although it is hard to say exactly why. Perhaps it’s the lyrics, some of which seem to lack any real depth. Or it could be the overwhelming mixture of influences, as it isn’t easy to find the right balance of sounds. The few flops on the album are hardly worth noting, however, because on the whole, Bundick shows a sophisticated shift from his chillwave roots into a more sonically diverse realm. He’s never been a great lyricist (Anything In Return is his best effort yet), and I’d much rather listen to Bundick take chances combining sounds than listen to another boring indie-pop record.

As the album’s opening track title suggests, there is perhaps some “Harm in Change,” but Bundick’s latest effort shows that there can also be significant growth. By introducing many new styles into his music, Bundick has not only made a highly accessible pop album, but one that old fans will certainly find engaging and deeply satisfying. Indeed, unlike the apathetic subgenre he helped define just a few years ago, it’s clear Bundick is here to stay.