Chaz Bundick – the 26-year-old South Carolinian who plies his trade under the name Toro Y Moi – knows how to manoeuvre his way out of a tight spot. His 2010 debut, Causers Of This, saw him boxed in with the chillwave movement – by then already at least a year old. However, with 2011’s excellent Underneath The Pine, Bundick punched his way out of the chillwave pigeonhole with a set of songs that drew inspiration equally from Broadcast and Burt Bacharach.
Now, on Anything In Return, Bundick has switched gears once again, freshening up Toro Y Moi’s sound by incorporating elements of house music. These are most obviously evident on the opening two tracks. Harm In Change displays a quality one wouldn’t have previously associated with Toro Y Moi: genuine, pulse-quickening excitement. The track starts slowly and sparsely, but then Bundick begins adding layer upon layer of dislocated female backing vocals, drum rolls and siren-like keyboards; his vocals, meanwhile, become increasingly urgent and impassioned. The right remix could absolutely slay that place so beloved of 21st century pop: ‘the club’.
Harm In Change is followed by So Many Details, which deploys the cut-up vocal samples that are Four Tet’s stock-in-trade to delicious effect. This thrilling opening brace suggests that Anything In Return will be Toro Y Moi’s big, bright, spangly disco record.
That’s not quite how it pans out. After those first two tracks, Anything In Return settles into a midtempo groove. On Rose Quartz, Balearic synths – another new addition to the Toro Y Moi armoury – hover around the sleepy-eyed melody, conjuring a beautiful, nocturnal atmosphere. Elsewhere, Cake – written by Bundick for his girlfriend “so she can dance to it” – represents Toro Y Moi’s approximation of a Justin Bieber track: one can imagine him throwing some boy band-style shapes to it on stage, if sufficiently inclined.
Trouble is, that run of midtempo tracks is perhaps a little too long, stretching as it does from track three, So Many Details, right through to the hyperactive R&B of Never Matter, the album’s twelfth song. Indeed, while Anything In Return doesn’t contain a bad track per se, it would have benefitted immensely from some trimming. At 13 tracks and 53 minutes, it’s at least three songs too long, and its pacing suffers in comparison with that of Underneath The Pine, which moved through manifold song shapes and styles in a brisk 39 minutes. Individually, Anything In Return’s songs are light and listenable; collectively, however, they prove a bit of a trudge to get through.
Bundick has billed Anything In Return as an album of “sincere pop”. That sincerity manifests itself in lyrics that deal predominately with the everyday ins-and-outs of relationships. Nothing wrong with that, but Bundick’s words occasionally mistake sincerity for bland anonymity: “You know me / And you know me too / That’s not like me / Let me hold you tonight” (Harm In Change); “I can pick a fight with you / I recognise you’re on my side” (Cake); “I’m alright out here with you / It doesn’t bother me / I know you think it does” (Grown-Up Calls).
Still, the poor pacing and forgettable lyrics are the only black marks against what is a consistently melodic and well-constructed album. Bundick has spoken about his long-term plan to return to his career as a graphic designer, stressing that music is merely a “hobby” to him. Perhaps he protests too much. The amount of painstaking effort that’s evident on Anything In Return suggests that he’s in this for the duration.