Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick isn’t the kind of guy who likes to repeat himself from release to release. His debut album, Causers of This, was murky, subtle chillwave, the follow-up, Underneath the Pine, was a much brighter affair that sounded equal parts space age bachelor pad music (à la Stereolab) and late-night disco. He followed that up with Freaking Out, a bubbling, funky EP, and then 2013’s Anything in Return, where he mostly casts aside the guitars that populated Underneath the Pine and sticks closer to a sleek and subdued Chill&B sound that sounds like a sadder version of Freaking Out. All the songs are dipped in shimmering layers of synths with the uptempo tracks underpinned by gently bouncing drums, the ballads with stuttering beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Miguel album. Though the arrangements are the most complex and carefully built he’s done yet, Bundick’s vocals are more out front than ever and filled with a newfound high level of passion that gives each song a strong emotional heartbeat. Despite the occasional diversion like the super sweet love song “Cake” or the percolating “Studies,” the album is a quietly melancholy late-night experience that unspools slowly and smoothly like a brilliant quiet storm mix tape. The first time through the album, it almost seems too quiet and too smooth, but repeated listens reveal the album’s strength and power. It’s almost a daring step for Bundick to take, as expanding his sound by making it brighter and simpler may have led to some mainstream success. Instead, his retreat into more complex and restrained sounds makes for a richer and more rewarding listening experience. That’s not to say that there aren’t any tracks that stand out and sound like singles; “Say That” has insistent rhythms and chopped up vocal samples that are sharply hooky, “Never Matter” has an almost Prince-ly strut that is infectious, and “Rose Quartz” is a softly pretty R&B ballad with some great falsetto. Bundick’s genius on Anything in Return is that he blends these poppy moments into the overall fabric of the album and the whole thing holds together in a tightly wound, perfectly constructed ball of sound and songcraft. It may not be the most immediately exciting album of his career, but it is the most impressive and affecting.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra