By the time 2013 had come around, Chaz Bear’s musical project known as Toro Y Moi had started to take on a life of its own. He had two projects under his belt, 2010’s Causers of This, featuring sample-heavy instrumentals that make up an album Bear composed in his bedroom and would later be credited as a pioneering album in the new found “chillwave” movement. At the time, Bear was not happy with this label. He was more than the collage-style sampling techniques that earned him the “father of chillwave” title, and he set out to prove that on his sophomore LP, Underneath The Pine, in 2011. The album features an array of instrumentals composed of live instrumentation, all played and composed by Bear himself. Bear looked to the artists he sampled on his debut and instead of chopping up their songs, he used their techniques to write up his own original arrangements, and the results were stellar. The tempos stayed at a high throughout the album and were driven by infectious basslines and funky drum patterns. The man behind Toro Y Moi paints his dive into live arrangements as a statement piece to those attempting to pigeonhole his music but underneath the surface, there was another major breakthrough that occurred on the 11 songs that make up Underneath The Pine.
Equally, if not more important than his exploration into composing with physical instruments, Bear began to incorporate another element we haven’t heard from him before; vocals. As sparse as they are on Underneath The Pine, for the first time we hear Bear’s mesmerizing tone of voice take center stage as they navigate the bouncy arrangements that give his sophomore LP its undeniably energetic personality. Bear added hushed melodies that explored love and loss, there is an endearing quality to these songs. He sounds sheepish, even hesitant at times in his vocal tones, providing a certain warmth to these already sunny instrumentals. Little did we know, Bear was just coming into his own as a songwriter.
We patiently waited two years for Toro Y Moi’s third LP, and a full decade after its initial release, that third LP feels as pure as ever. Anything In Return was released on January 22, 2013 and the songs contained on this album would introduce us to the limitless potential of Toro Y Moi. In an attempt to craft catchy pop tunes that use the deep drums of house music, Bear reimagined the genre and breathed new life into this electro-pop hybrid. Bear mixed the electronic nature of his debut with the purity of his sophomore release to find an all-encompassing sound that birthed lush, complex textures. The resulting 13 songs would form a tracklist of infinite wonder, Anything In Return redefined Toro Y Moi as a sonic chameleon.
As soon as you press play, this high level of confidence that has been lying dormant in Bear this whole time is on full display. The whispering vocals that were associated with Toro Y Moi become an afterthought as Bear stretches and bends his vocals with the precision of an origami artist, each voice crack and octave reached representing a fold of the paper. The trust he has in his voice shines on the spacious “Grown Up Calls”. The minimalist arrangement of the song allows Bear to really exercise the abilities of his voice, putting a fire in his delivery that was unknown to Toro Y Moi fans at the time. This is a trend on the album, his falsetto-laced harmonies on “Studies” and the melodies used on “Cake” all point to the fact that Bear has evolved into a full-blown frontman.
Lyrically, there is a feeling of longing underneath that charismatic delivery that Bear has. Despite the larger-than-life synths used on “Never Matter” it is still one of the saddest songs in Toro Y Moi’s now expansive discography. “I think I let my mind go wild and I Think I’m on the verge of crying. It’s the fact I’m not closer to letting anyone inside my life” croons Bear right at the top of the track. Underneath this self-assuredness that drives Anything In Return, Bear is quick to question the world around him, humanizing the artist behind these robotic songs. His vague yet poetic approach to songwriting on this album only deepens the interpersonal connections made between Bear and the listener, putting himself in a position of vulnerability allowing for moments of bliss on this otherwise feverish collection of songs.
How comfortable Bear felt when recording this album shows in its spastic yet purposeful instrumentals. He was able to incorporate so many of his influences and melt them down into this psychedelic innocence by combining his child-like wonder for disco and house. He layered all of these influences to create an album full of colorful textures and polyrhythmic structures that, to this day, come off as ambitious and refreshing. From the cascading keys that echo through “So Many Details” to the screeching samples that make up the hook for “Say That”, the production work on Anything In Return is innovative and carries the weight of Bear’s innately catchy songwriting.
While it is hard to deny that Toro Y Moi has only gotten more ambitious since Anything In Return, this album is far from a footnote on his career, it’s actually the start of it all. On this album, Bear came into his own not only as a vocalist but as an alien force of nature whose sole purpose is to reimagine and rearrange conventional music into something breathtaking. Bear’s combination of deep house instrumentals and a pop-centric approach to melody brings us an album that has proven its timeless nature and brought to light an artist who refuses to stop growing.