Get on the Valium Rollercoaster

Album Review - Toro Y Moi - Anything In Return (January 22, 2013 on Carpark Records)

For most of us the end of January marks the in-between of the winter wearies. Yes, we’ve had enough of the bone-pinching cold and relentless grey weather. Thank you. You can go away now. So when you come across an album like Toro Y Moi’s Anything In Return, you’re not only encountering nostalgia for the hazy, freewheeling days of summer, you’re also encountering that glimmer of hope for sunshine that will get you through the next month and a half.

Artist and producer Chaz Bundick may have the humble charisma of an indie pop go-getter, but it hasn’t stopped fans from anointing him as a pioneer of the chillwave genre which has started small but is gradually rippling into the mainstream. The 26-year-old brainchild behind Toro Y Moi covers new ground in his latest album, drawing on a number of influences but never straying entirely from the smooth synth-induced stratosphere where his music-making career began. While the lyricism may be simple, the induction of his vocals over a muted percussion thrives on a kind of urban tropic touted by bands like Neon Indian and Kravinsky (whose single “Nightcall” was showcased in the Ryan Gosling thriller Drive).

There’s a process of hybridization going on in here. It can be felt in the enjambment of old-school sounds reminiscent of late ’90s funk over Chaz’s own brand of electronic hip hop instrumental. It’s a meshing of the organic with the technological, and the byproduct in tracks like “Rose Quartz” and “Studies” is strangely mellow. Maybe that’s what stands out in this collection. The tautness. There’s a tension between snared-out groove and lilting trance which pulls you into a sort of aphasic stream-of-consciousness. Like riding a rollercoaster on Valium. Sure, you’re swinging G-forces on rickety wooden rails and hitting speeds best reserved for police chases, but the trip has the serene quality of a dream.

It’s not often I come across music that translates so well visually in my brain, but the high-contrast pulse carries through with the deft attention to detail you’d expect from a graphic designer (did I forget to mention that Chaz graduated with a BA in graphic design?).  There’s a lot to admire in the layers of injected electronica, but that kind of scrutiny is exactly what the music tries to avoid – it demands nothing of its listener other than for him or her to sink, to loosen the reins, and just listen.

They say your first album gets your face out there. Your second album establishes your sound. If your third album can make you or signal your decline, then the maturity and self-assuredness evident in Anything In Return is exactly where Toro Y Moi needed to end up. And he’s earned it. His North American tour debuts at the end of the month and will take him from Phoenix to New York, and back down through Portland to L.A., with a stopover Canada-side at the Biltmore on February 26th.

Highlighting his tour will be appearances by Dog Bite, whose collaboration with Toro Y Moi has generated a split 7” single that will only be physically available for purchase at their shows. The dual effort showcases the symbiotic but equally independent vibe of both artists – it’s an eerie blend of upbeat alien interference and dark aquatic distortion.  There’s enough here to take your mind off of winter, but if you’re not careful, you’ll end up in another world altogether.

 

Check out “Say That”, the second single off Anything In Return.

YouTube Preview Image