This Is Dance Music
On past Toro y Moi albums —2010's Causers of This, 2011's Underneath the Pine— Chaz Bundick would occasionally lean on styles from the dancefloor; elements of funk, disco, New Jack Swing, and modern R&B at play in his wonky, wobbly chillwave. His third TYM LP, Anything in Return, takes a more uncluttered influence from the dancefloor, with the particular influence of house music persisting throughout the LP. Which is not to say, entirely, that you can dance to the record, but you could certainly try.
Bundick introduces the brighter, slicker, less-cluttered, more-direct sound of Anything in Return with opener "Harm in Charge," a piano-house production with driving synths, sampled vocal cues, and a largely-straight meter. It's backed by "Say That," a song of similarly upbeat, vocal-sample-addled sound. And, at this point, it's conceivable to imagine that Bundick's dancefloor alter-ego, Les Sins, has taken over. The mood doesn't hold, but it's been set; and Anything in Return plays out as Bundick's largely-melancholy meditation on production.
On Causers of This and Underneath the Pine, Bundick was, for all the swimming, slurring, slippery sounds of his tape-sheeny, bedroom-recorded sound, effectively approaching music as a songwriter. Here, he sounds more like a producer. On Side A, that production definitely errs towards a cleaner sound than Toro y Moi has ever displayed. But, on Side B, things get a little bit strange; reminding you that this is, after all, smooth dancefloor production heard via the ears of a Guy Called Chazwick.
"Cola" feels like a piano-vampin' pop ballad from the early '80s, thrown down to the bottom of a well; pitch-shifted vocals tending down, as if hoping the central heartbreak might just drown. "Day One" is deep funk whose saunter seems more like a lope, and whose lope is so slow that you notice all the strange details: all the odd, digital filters scribbling trails in the wake of Bundick's singing; all the jazz-fusion organ runs that rise and fall; all the dissonant noise buzzing away in a swathe of unreal digital-delay. "Studies" sounds like robots trying to learn how to recreate psychedelic, Indian-tinged sunshine-pop, with Bundick's high, heliophonic voice autotuned slightly to match the mechanistic rhythms of the electronic assemblage.
The general feeling, in so many of these songs, is of Bundick playing things 'straight,' but not making them straight-laced; smuggling in secretly-subversive sonic amidst the seemingly-slick overall sound. It's a producer's kind of trick, of course, and one that symbolizes the record. If early Toro y Moi felt like a singer-songwriter giving his melancholy confessionals an unexpected sound —all claggy tape-sheen and strung-together segues— this feels like an album in which a clearer sound contrasts with more complex compositions; with even the 4/4 numbers feeling likely to change spots at any point.
This, in turn, gives the album a considered, almost conceptual form that stands in contrast to its supposed embrace of straight dancefloor jams and/or (on cuts like "How's It Wrong") modern R&B sounds. It's an album that engages mentally and, if you're feeling so under-the-influence, could indeed be played in a disco. But it also lacks the easy, smeary charm of its predecessors, and feels like an early crossroads in the Toro y Moi discography.
Release Date: January 22, 2013