TORO Y MOI with Wild Belle and Dog Bite at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (February 17), doors 8 pm, $20. HS, RT, SS, TM. See listings.
The cover art for Anything In Return, Toro y Moi's third record, features a partial portrait of Chazwick Bundick amidst a few sparse stalks of leaves, all cast in a bold wash of colours. It evokes the 70s, an era Bundick likes to reference aesthetically, and he says the artwork's a nod to that era's abstract jazz record sleeves. More importantly, it's the first time Bundick has put his face on the cover of a record.
"It's kind of a traditional thing to do, but I wanted to do it tastefully," he says, before countering with, "I don't know if I'm ever going to put my face on there for real."
Causers Of This, Bundick's pensive, lo-fi rhythm-and-groove debut record, helped fuel chillwave, a blog-coined sub-genre describing artists who contemporized motifs from 80s synth pop. But Bundick's reluctance to be chillwave's frontman led to his portrayal as a timid auteur sidling out of his South Carolina bedroom clutching a laptop and squinting in the light.
Anything In Return isn't a response to that impression, Bundick says, though its cover portrait, big-budget sound, house music overtures, rap vocal samples (is that Birdman on Say That?) and unobscured placement of his slight vocals feel kind of like it is.
"I am comfortable now," Bundick says. "A lot of people think I'm upset or have this melancholy personality, so I wanted to focus on some optimistic sounds.
"Like, if I feel like experimenting with Auto-Tune I don't feel self-conscious about that."
A move westward away from family and friends in South Carolina may have played a role in his new direction. A sure influence is the creeping in of Les Sins, Bundick's dancier side project with releases on Jiaolong, the label run by Caribou's Dan Snaith.
"That's about trying to sound better and work on production in general," Bundick explains. "I would start these dance tracks and end up making them Toro y Moi songs by singing on them and restructuring them to make a more pop-song arrangement.
"Big-studio quality was sort of the goal, because I've never done that. It was new for me to [try] that sort of mainstream aesthetic. Like The-Dream or Kanye West, I definitely wanted this album to sound futuresque."