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Anything in Return, the third album by Toro Y Moi, is a collection of electropop songs built from an amalgam of diverse elements; house, R&B, and even funk come to mind when listening. The record seems clearly to be striving for an air of nostalgic sensuality, which it successfully borrows from the 80s. Its most defining qualities are its smooth production, frequent vocal sampling, and a reliance on dreamy, layered synthesizers to create a foundation upon which singer/songwriter/producer Chaz Bundick’s high pitched vocals are balanced.
At its best, the album achieves a sort of dorkish seductiveness that is both charming and genuine. You can almost imagine a four-eyed, turtlenecked Bundick serenading you from a keyboard covered in rose petals. At its worst however, Anything in Return comes off as heavy-handed, with awkwardly misplacing vocal samples and meandering synth solos. Luckily, it retains more good than bad.
In general, the saving grace of the album – its most consistently satisfying quality – is its ability to use the lushness of its tones and unexpected structural shifts to sweep the listener away without relying on consistent pop song structure. This is exemplified best in the single “So Many Details,” where the beat cuts out suddenly about a minute and a half in after developing steady progress, and leaves only a bass line, warbly synth hook, and washed out vocal cut behind. It’s just really refreshing and catchy as hell.
If Bundick had stuck to a traditional verse/chorus/verse form for the entire album, it would have lost the great diversity and progression that keep it fresh to the ear. On the few songs that do have a basic pop structure, Bundick employs extended instrumental breaks like a thread to string the many hooks together.
One of the more interesting, and perhaps controversial, choices that were made in the production of this record is the mixing up of the vocals in relation to the instrumentation. It would be inaccurate to say that lyrics are the primary driving force of any of these songs, except for maybe on “Cake” – it’s more of a dance-to than sing-along-with sort of jam. The lyrics touch upon vague references to love and relationships (i.e.: “I’m alright/she’s alright,” “she knows I’mma be her boy forever”) and are repeated frequently, bobbing in and out of the forefront of the tracks.
In the case of a record like this, which is so dependent on its dreamy production, the obvious choice to make would have been to subtly implant the vocals into the mix so that they wouldn’t call too much attention to themselves and to add to the layered web of sounds that gives it its smoothness. The opposite approach was taken here though, and while the confidence that Bundick’s vocals exhibit is appreciated, what ensues is that the record debates with itself about whether it wants to be about R&B style crooning or synth induced hallucinations. Ultimately, this isn’t a problem strictly speaking because it lends itself to a greater variety of appeal.