Music

Toro y Moi: What For?

Chaz Bundick turns his restless dissatisfaction into artistic fuel on Toro y Moi's psychedelic fourth album.


Toro y Moi

What For?

Label: Carpark
US Release Date: 2015-04-07
UK Release Date: 2015-04-13
Amazon
iTunes

Ever since the genre was given its tongue-in-cheek moniker, people were waiting for the other shoe to drop for chillwave. Instead of some tumultuous meltdown, though, the genre’s defining artists just fluttered away silently from their bedroom-producer origins. Tellingly, they all moved in the same direction, embracing expansive, lush sounds in its wake: Washed Out gave us the heady, rhapsodic Paracosm, Neon Indian stepped out with a less dingy synthpop sound on Era Extraña, and Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick, restlessly experimenting with where he could go since the project’s 2010 debut, concocted What For?

The artistic dissatisfaction Bundick has felt these last few years has been all but palpable. Toro y Moi’s spaced-out, ephemeral 2013 album Anything in Return preempted the simple dance flair of Bundick’s Les Sins side project and its 2014 debut Michael, two sidelong steps from the path he’d charted previously. Now Toro y Moi returns with What For?, a psychedelic rock fantasy that once again finds Bundick feeling his way around unfamiliar territory in an attempt to get comfortable, primarily latching onto the indie pop movements of the Apples in Stereo and the blue-eyed soul sounds of Hall and Oates in an approximation of the smooth garage rock ethos of Tame Impala. It’s a bold transition in the context of Toro y Moi’s history, but hardly a unique one.

Bundick let indecisiveness and doubt unintentionally invade his music some time ago, but What For? marks the first time that he’s embraced it as artistic fuel, reconciling his anxiety with a focused musical approach and an empowering sense of self-reflection at the heart of the album. Bundick’s lyrics are laced with overwhelming, unanswerable questions: “Does anyone know where we go from here?” he asks on the opening track, “What You Want”. On single “Empty Nesters”, he considers the role of individuality in young adult life: “Did you meet with your advisors? / Do you still draw in the margins?” “Buffalo”, in which Bundick vents his disillusionment with music from a third-person perspective, emphasizing the feeling of distance, is most damning: “Someone took away his microphone / Pushed him off the stage ‘til he’s on his own… / Cash in when the time is right.” Even the album’s title suggests that uncertainty is Bundick’s heaviest burden these days.

The music is far less hesitant in its mood -- light but not frivolous -- but still tied to the morose contemplation of Bundick’s lyrics. He buoys the guitars with sticky choruses and phasers, giving his airy melodies a vast, stormy undercurrent that pairs nicely with his hazy inner turmoil. The electronic dance textures of Michael and early Toro y Moi releases are replaced with guitar pop simplicity, emboldened with layered effects and deepened with reverb. Bundick toys with disco-pop on “Spell It Out”, but instead of his signature floaty synthesizers, the song springs to life from funky guitars and even swims into a guitar solo bridge. Bundick’s aptitude for softly sung refrains is the constant, a foundation for his stylistic experiments. Even on songs where he mostly emits a dull moan like “Half Dome”, the waves of melody floating under him from the fuzzy bass and guitar keep it active until the gentle wash of the chorus. For all the changes he’s made, his talents are still mostly in the foreground on What For?

The great thing about Bundick is that he can do a lot of things and do them well, but before he gives himself the chance to master something, his restlessness always carries him off to another world. What For? is about as successful a transplant as he can make into a fresh setting. If nothing else, Bundick is at least acknowledging his nervous wayfaring with What For? It’s his weariest sounding record, perhaps indicating that he’s finally searching for a place to settle down. With the immediacy and focus he’s found now, maybe he’ll just take his time.

Splash image of Toro Y Moi by Andrew Paynter.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pay Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.