Chillwave creeped into mainstream indie music in 2011, when producers like Neon Indian and Washed Out began releasing remixes of popular songs that were slowed down and looped with ambient synthesizers and filtered vocals. Toro y Moi stands at the forefront of the genre, continuing its success with the April 7 release of “What For?”
Chaz Bundick, the musician behind Toro y Moi, diverged from the roots of the trippy genre he helped promulgate with 2013’s psychedelic, neo-soul tinged “Anything in Return.” On “What For?,” Bundick wanders even further from that label into a ’70s-inspired collection of tunes closer to an Electric Light Orchestra B-Side than the former shoegaze-inspired sound. Ditching the synth and electric piano for a more classic band set up, Bundick recruited Unknown Mortal Orchestra guitarist Ruban Nielson and singer-songwriter Julian Lynch to help record an album that blends Bundick’s familiar voice with stripped-down instrumentation that could not be further from the dreamy sound he is known for.
Drawn-out riffs on album closer “Yeah Right” would not seem out of place looped around the production in his 2010 debut “Causers of This.” Singles “Buffalo” and “Empty Nesters” balance well-orchestrated drum snaps with a swirling mix of guitars and Bundick’s trademark melodic vocals. Bundick places his voice alongside the flow in short simple bursts of wisdom, showing prowess as a vocalist as well as a musician and a producer.
The standout single “Empty Nesters” deals with the logistics of leaving for tour and leaving home for an extended period of time. The refrain deals with feelings of leaving the only place you know for greener pastures, a topic most can relate to. With lyrics like “Did you meet with your adviser?/Do you still draw in the margins?/Bubble letters reading ‘What for?’/And I wish I had a stand-in,” listeners hear an artist reflecting on the difficult transition into independence that comes with growing up. The result is astonishing and true to Toro y Moi’s past while pushing Bundick in a new musical direction.
While the album does have impressive highs that fans of Bundick will be able to appreciate, “What For?” suffers from the occasional lackluster moment. The 10-track album runs slightly under 40 minutes and has moments that fail to propel his sound forward. When an artist tries to achieve the sonic diversity Bundick wants, moments such as “Lilly” and “Half Dome” only serve to confuse the listener. Although not as successful as previous albums, “What For?” is another interesting development from the mind of Bundick, and as far as transition albums go, it stumbles rather gracefully.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 7 print edition. Email Logan Baker at [email protected]