One of the pioneering forces behind the chillwave movement, Chaz Bundick has set out to make his third record pop. Yes, literally, pop music. It’s a head-scratching move for someone who was at the forefront of an underground music movement. Pop has a kind of disdain attached to it, especially within the chillwave community. It’s synthesized music in the way that chillwave musicians are often trying to challenge and nuance.
So why is Chaz Bundick moving to pop music? If we take him at his own word, Bundick hopes he’s refined a sound that his “girlfriend can dance to.” If that’s what he was going for, a few tracks on Anything in Return are sure successes. Opener “Harm in Change” begins at a hurried pace that’s reminiscent of his past singles, but when the electric organ comes in, the track moves in the direction of art house music. The song’s sampled vocals, from an unnamed female soul singer, are the kind I’d expect from The Weeknd, not Toro y Moi. Likewise, “So Many Details” benefits from Bundick’s seductive croons. His voice is louder, clearer and more confident than it has ever been. Both tracks are more accessible than most chillwave and much less aloof. Maybe Bundick, the 26-year old, has started to move away from the somewhat-apathetic instincts of his earlier works. In its place is a sound that’s catchier and more lively, if less obviously polished.
While Bundick succeeds in making his pop record, parts of the album feel forced, regressions from his typically effortless productions. “Touch” and “Cola” sound essentially the same, with droning beats and unimpressive, borderline lazy, repetition. The droning might have worked in the context of a chillwave album, but in a record that is so noticeably pop, the tracks feel tired and out of place. “Cake” and “Day One” have the opposite problem. They’re reminiscent of the sugarcoated songs I’d expect to hear from cheap mainstream pop. That is, they sounded more or less like Toro y Moi trying to imitate pop, as if he wanted to honor the return of Justin Timberlake. And with lines such as “I’m all right / she’s all right / we’re all right” and “Imma be her boy forever” Bundick’s lyrics also leave something to be desired.
The best tracks on Anything in Return balance Bundick’s electro-pop with the more methodical pace of his earlier work. “Rose Quartz” is the most expertly crafted track on the album. Unlike most of the pop songs, “Quartz” shows Bundick the minimalist. The loops build slowly and the vocals are quiet enough to not overwhelm the backdrop. “High Living” is another song that benefits from its relaxed pace. Its funk-inspired percussion and high-pitched melodies are catchy, and it’s one of a handful of moments on the album when Toro y Moi successfully incorporates tropes from other genres. Elsewhere on the album there are influences from darker versions of disco, some R&B and even, occasionally, jazz—all arranged in the midst of his characteristic lo-fi haze. Though it’s clear that Bundick wants to makes danceable music, the best tracks on Anything in Return reconcile pop with his older aesthetic.