Release Date: Apr 7, 2015
Record label: Carpark Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop
It's not easy to pin down Toro y Moi and Chaz Bundick. Since he first started releasing music in 2009, one never quite knows what he's going to do next. From super-chilled bedroom pop to slick R&B-influenced jams, his albums have covered a lot of ground. Everything he does is relaxed and smoothed-out at its core, though -- that's the one thing to count on.
Being labelled and grouped with other acts - whether or not one belongs there - must have a frustrating impact on the psyche of an artist. Whether or not you roundly dismiss such terms or embrace them in the hopes of becoming the definitive act of said ‘movement’ requires a delicate weighing up of both artistic licence and marketing nous. Sadly, as trends progress, such terms are often rendered either meaningless or, worse, hopelessly passé.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It goes without saying that "pop" sensibilities are fickle and changeable. Trends in music fade as quickly as they ignite, dragging artists from stardom back to relative obscurity in the blink of an eye. However, Chaz Bundick, aka Toro Y Moi, was never going to be relegated to the realm of the one-hit wonder, despite being lumped in with the ephemeral "chillwave" fad.
Change can be the marker of creative progression, but it can also be a bottomless pit for a number of artists. For every Radiohead, there are more than a dozen bands like The Strokes, clawing their way back into relevancy after clutching at new directions for their material. And then, for the select few, aesthetics can be reshaped on a whim — not necessarily forging new ground, but capturing the spirit of discovery and exploration.
Chaz Bundick, the recording artist whose music most often bears the name Toro y Moi, is a busy chameleon of a producer. Including last year's dance album Michael, released as Les Sins, he's made five albums since 2010. Each one is usually accompanied by some ambitious change in aesthetic. Now that we have What For?, which sounds like a cross between Tame Impala and Mac DeMarco, it's hard not to see Michael as Bundick relegating his electronic leanings to a side project.
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.
The distance Chaz Bundick has established between himself and short-lived chillwave fad of the late 2000s is nothing short of impressive, let alone crucial to his musical longevity. While the bulk of acts from the subgenre faded beneath their effects-drenched compositions, Bundick rose above the rest in putting together a collection of diverse full-length records (including one from his side project Les Sins) that run the gamut from indie pop to house music. On What For?, his fourth effort as Toro Y Moi, the South Carolina native has once again shifted musical shapes by putting away the electronics for a foray into an origin of the subgenre he helped popularize.
Toro Y Moi’s last album, Anything In Return, saw Chaz Bundick (the act’s solitary member) moving away from its predecessor’s intoxicating psychedelia and towards dance-pop and R&B. Yet, even when promoting Anything In Return, Bundick was already plotting his next move: “I’ve gotten my chance to experiment with suave pop,” he said in a late-2012 interview, “but I really want to go back and play indie rock again”. Now, two-and-a-bit years later (and following last year’s mostly instrumental album from Bundick’s side-project Les Sins) comes Anything In Return’s follow-up, What For?, an album which is not “indie rock” in any recognisable form.
Calling What For? a return to Chaz Bundick’s roots is accurate and also fairly misleading. The guitar-driven giddiness of "Empty Nesters" was a surprise whether or not you’ve heard June 2009, a collection of early Toro Y Moi recordings given a quiet, proper release in 2012. But at the very least, it provides precedent: before "Blessa", Bundick was sorting out what he wanted Toro Y Moi to be, and he wrote a number of classicist, lo-fi indie rock songs.
There’s no dressing it up: Chaz Bundick left chillwave behind before it was cool. Mentioning the long-forgotten genre in the same sentence as Toro Y Moi seems a disservice these days, but it’s testament to just how freely the producer tends to move, ditching previous styles for fun. Latest case in point: ‘What For?’, a fourth album existing in a completely different hyperspace to the the house-pop-fusion of 2013’s ‘Anything In Return’.
If you’re a young indie rock fan in 2015, the odds that you’re also a diehard Styx fan are pretty slim. Perhaps you’ve heard parts of Paradise Theatre or The Grand Illusion in passing — maybe on your parents’ car stereo or in a bowling alley — but have you really taken the time to thoroughly visit their catalog? It’s OK. Neither have I.
"Chillwave" was a fun term for what was essentially just a few languid effects-and-synth-heavy pop records from the early 2010s. Thankfully, California-based singer/songwriter Chazwick Bundick, considered one of chillwave's founding fathers, has outlived the term. In fact, What For? may be the final nail in the genre's coffin. Yes, there are some overwhelmingly languorous moments on these 10 tracks, including the airy guitar solos on The Flight and the meandering verses of Ratcliff.
It seemed for a while at the end last year that South Carolina’s synth-pop prodigy Chaz Bundick would be hanging up the Toro Y Moi moniker for a while to make way for the eclectic dance-project Les Sins, what with the release of the debut Michael in November. If that wasn’t enough, then creating and heading new label Company Records and collaborating with artists like Chromeo would surely be enough to put the main project at bay for a while. But Bundick is an incredibly industrious young artist, and proof of this was back in January with the arrival “Empty Nesters”, which announced not only new material in the form of fourth full-length What For?, but signaled a change in sound from the smooth r’n’b gloss of 2013‘s Anything In Return to fully-fledged rock.
With new albums flying at us left and right in a DIY age where anything you doodle on your laptop could become tomorrow’s viral hit, plenty of great stuff still falls between the cracks even for music journalists. Here’s the amazing music we’ve been waiting to tell you about ever since we ….
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Racetrack buzzes open Toro y Moi's fourth album, but What For? isn't speedy. Instead, its boogie daydream reiterates the abundant gifts of South Carolina producer Chaz Bundick. Breathy riffs on "Empty Nesters" whisper Tame Impala's Currents, but the Seventies guitar pop is all Bundick, whose increase in vocalizing here eliminates the need for heavy synths to drown them out.
The musical evolution of Chaz Bundick, a.k.a. Toro Y Moi, is characterized by such dramatic stylistic leaps of faith over such a short period of time that it’s as though he’s executing a progression plotted out years ago. That kind of calculation is prudent for an artist to emerge from a sub-genre as limiting as chillwave, the loop-heavy scene for which Bundick’s 2010 debut Causers Of This is a founding document.
Twice in the last week I mentioned the new Toro y Moi album to like-minded 20-somethings and got the same response: “Oh, I’ve got him on a playlist.” The playlist: Beats for the Sheets..