When people experience something life-altering they can come out of it with a new outlook on life. No matter how grand the experience might be, coming out of the situation will have your thought process changed. That’s what Chaz Bundick AKA Toro Y Moi details on his 2013 album Anything in Return. Bundick is originally from Columbia, SC and made his first two albums there in his bedroom before moving to California with his wife. Moving across the state is a huge culture shock, but moving from the south to the west was something Bundick was ready for. “I’d never lived anywhere other than where I grew up.” He told SPIN in 2013. “A lot of the album talks about how hard it is to cope, but also how I’m comfortable out here, happy to be on my own. I don’t know how I would’ve turned out if I didn’t leave.” Bundick set out to make this album sound more positive than the last and let people know that one, he isn’t a sad guy and two, that he can actually sing. This album achieved both of those goals and then some. Blending sounds from not only different genres, but eras of music too. There’s 80’s boogie and synth-pop, 2010’s R&B, 70’s disco too. All wrapped up in Chaz’s signature sound that we all know and love.
Being that this album was made after a cross-country move from South Carolina to California, the first song being “Harm In Change” is very fitting. The song details the unease someone can feel before a big move like this, but Chaz reassures the other person (definitely his wife) that he’s ready to go now and there’s not a doubt in his mind. In an excerpt from Interview Magazine Chaz stated, “Lately I’ve been fascinated by flower-power music—the mood of it is so happy, but there’s a dark side, too.” That thought process is a perfect way to describe the next track “Say That.” If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics and just listen to the beat you’ll find yourself mindlessly nodding along to its infectious groove, but the lyrics reveal a deeper story. The song seems to detail Chaz’s thought process after a breakup. He wants to believe that they’ll still be cool, and he spends a bulk of the song trying to convince himself. The main refrain “She’s alright, I’m alright, We’re alright, We can’t go back” coupled with Chaz’s love interest wishing that he was home more seem to cement the fact that there’s no hope for repairing this relationship. “How’s It Wrong” dives into the theme of trying to get back a moment that felt like it happened in an instant. You were in pure bliss for one second, then the next second it was over and you spend days (or months) thinking about it. Chaz has been slowly losing his mind over this and when he talks to the person over the phone, it’s not even close to having them by his side.
With the move to a new state Chaz also experiences the lows of being in a new town relatively on his own. He details the feeling of longing on the track “Cola.” Well, depending on how you interpret the lyrics, this could be a song on missing a lover. Personally, I hear it as a song missing your hometown and it fits the theme of a big move. Chaz keeps the production minimal to bare his soul about growing up and fully being on your own for this first time. Chaz wrote the song after a visit from his parents which make the lyrics “It’s imperfect, It’s not forever, That you’re further, You’re still patient” hit even harder. The song “Cake” continues the theme of being older and on your own too as Chaz and his wife are in different parts of life, but are still trying to make the relationship work. Chaz is out touring the world and his wife is studying for her PhD back at home. Chaz is dedicated to making the relationship work, but doesn’t want to waste both of their time if she doesn’t think it’ll work it out. “Never Matter” is a song that once again sees Chaz doubting the longevity of his relationship. He doesn’t feel right in his current situation and is astonished that he’s made it this far. He doesn’t want this person out of his life though, “Funny that you picked me out, Didn’t think I was your type, I can’t imagine wondering, What it’s like, to have you out my life.”
There’s some moments on here that’re just plain love-making songs, too. Songs like “Day One,” “So Many Details,” & “Grown Up Calls” are all about either making love or trying to make love. Chaz uses these songs to show off his more romantic and flirtatious side. Especially on “Day One,” a song where Chaz is literally telling this person that he wants to be with them forever. They shared a tender moment away from everyone else, and now he wants that moment forever. The lyrics reflect that really cute, but naïve young love.
Being known as one of the innovators behind the chillwave genre, you might’ve expected this album to sound more down-tempo, but immediately from the start Chaz shatters expectations. “Harm In Change” features these sometimes haunting vocal harmonies behind these 70’s disco-esque drum breaks and a commanding bassline. There’s a breakdown that happens where all of the instruments come together and they sound so well together that it is impossible to not nod along. What’s special about this album is that Chaz covers the range of just how many elements he wanted on a song. There’s songs like “Rose Quartz” where there’s an intro that over a minute long of instruments coming in and out before they all come together and rise in volume until the vocals come in. That intro is audio perfection. When that synth pad meshes with the bass and those claps, you feel like you’re levitating up into another plane of existence. “How’s It Wrong” starts off with a simple piano loop and some minimal drums, then when the beat drops and this driving synth combines with these sporadic strings and these vocals to create the perfect audio collage. Then on the other hand, there’s songs like “Cola” and “Touch” that feature very minimal production, but still convey the message they want to send. “Touch” is basically just a kick, a wooden block, a shaker and a piano, That’s it. With just those basic instruments Chaz was still able to create one of the grooviest songs on the track list. I love how the beat with cut in and out with the clap and them come back in with the shaker, and the vocal run he’s constantly hitting in the background. Personally, my favorite has to be either “Rose Quartz” or “Never Matter.” “Never Matter” features these crescendoing synths that sound like waves crashing on the shore, Chaz is absolutely jamming on the piano and the snare on the drums is absolutely insanity. The bass follows Chaz’s vocals during the hook, then at the end another synth comes in to take us home. It’s so 80’s funk, it’s so infectious, it’s just great. Wow.
This album is really really good. If you’re a fan of Toro already, give this album a listen with a new perspective and take in something new. If you haven’t heard this or don’t know who Toro is, I’d start with this album then immediately listen to his 2017 album Boo Boo. I should review that one too. Hopefully, this review was enough to get you curious! Who knows you might find a new favorite! Peace.
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