Album review: Toro y Moi

Indie rock hasn’t been “rocking” much these days, which is perfectly fine. But progress is always good, and it’s interesting to see how the new generation incorporates turn-of-the-century influences like electronica and R&B.

South Carolina’s Chaz Bundick, who records as Toro y Moi, made his first real impact on the underground music scene in 2010 by landing at the forefront of the synth-streaked chillwave subgenre. His 2011 album, Underneath the Pine, took a huge leap forward and left behind the aimless drift of his contemporaries by diving into deep grooves aimed squarely at the dance floor. Anything in Return, released last Tuesday, finds Bundick going further in that direction, developing his sound such that calling him the “2010s Steely Dan” isn’t entirely out of the question.

As a producer and arranger, Bundick is definitely talented. He submerges his jazzy keyboards and thick, rolling basslines in aquatic effects, setting them off against cut-up vocal samples and drums that truly kick. Add to that Bundick’s indie-kid vocals, and the Toro y Moi sound is complete. Anything in Return sequences itself fairly well, too, kicking off with a trilogy of engaging, house-indebted jams before settling into more easygoing groovers, occasionally punctuated by poppier songs, like the very ’80s-sounding “Cake”. It’s an enjoyable listen, particularly for production junkies, but the album’s excessive length is its major flaw.

The slow, jam-heavy middle section is as long as an EP, and while it sounds good, it drags considerably if you’re not in the mood. In fact, this could be said of the album as a whole. Bundick’s hooks aren’t exactly plentiful, and his lyrics are more or less there to carry the melodies. Still, even if the songwriting is lacking in some departments, it’s easy to overlook when the album sounds this good.

The aforementioned opening trio is fantastic, climaxing in the tense, kind of sultry “Say That” and the synth apocalypse of “So Many Details”. Meanwhile, “Cola” offers some of the album’s prettiest melodies, while the slow strut of “High Living” opens up into a soaring chorus. Highlights like these make up for the slow spots, and on the whole, the album is unpretentious and easy to like, if not really to love. Anything in Return is ultimately an insubstantial listen, but it’s a fun, funky indie party album nonetheless. MMM½

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