By Gabriella De Leon
“What For?” may come as a surprise to both new and old followers of Toro Y Moi. For the past five years, Chaz Bundick, the man behind the band, has been pumping out a steady stream of highly synthesized indie-pop songs. This album is a somewhat drastic change from previous studio albums because it dropped much of the synthesized pop that he is known for. “What For?” can be described as Toro Y Moi’s first indie-rock album.
Bundick went way back to his roots with this one. If it were not for the smooth, polished and clearly matured sound, “What For?” could be mistaken for Bundick’s pre-Toro Y Moi days. Since “Causers of This” (released in 2010), Toro Y Moi’s first studio album, he has held his own as one of the most prominent “chillwave” acts. Chillwave is a genre of music characterized by the heavy use of effects processing, synthesizers, looping, sampling and filtered vocals. “What For?” kept a hint of ’80s synth-pop, but added a more ’70s vibe, making it a breath of fresh air for all returning fans.
The album starts with a soft, dreamy guitar riff and Bundick’s equally soft vocals in the opening track “What You Want.” In the second song, “Buffalo,” Bundick lays down the feel for the rest of the album. “Buffalo” provides a funky groove and a fun beat with lyrics to match.
The rest of “What For?” follows the lead of “What You Want” and “Buffalo.” It is a flash to the past with a good serving of funk, a dollop of groove, a scoop of ’70s rock inspired guitar and hints of the ’80s sprinkled on top. To keep it up to date, Bundick adds his flare with whimsical lyrics and just a touch of his old chillwave style.
Songs such as the upbeat “Empty Nesters” or the groovy “Spell It Out” keep the album’s sound fresh and exciting. “Empty Nesters” was the first single off of the album and it blew Toro Y Moi’s fans away. It was unlike any other song before it. Bundick completely dropped the chillwave and traded it in for a steady drum beat and a guitar. It was by far the most organic song released by Toro Y Moi up until this point.
Other songs like “Ratcliff” and “Yeah Right” keep the album soft and down to earth. These songs are the two that cement it in its indie-rock glory. The effects on both are minimal. It is a guitar, a drum set and Bundick’s hazy vocals — earthy and straightforward. However, what makes “Ratcliff” a gem and not just any old indie-rock song is its use of vintage keys paired with a whimsical guitar and hazy vocals. The sound alone creates an almost nostalgic feel — it sounds sort of like a happier, more outgoing Elliot Smith.
Toro Y Moi’s latest album comes at the perfect time of the year. As the weather is warming up, the barbeques start lighting and the rooftops start coming down with the promise of summer, “What For?” is the album to listen to on road trips or block parties. It is upbeat enough to be fun, yet relaxed enough to pop it in and listen to at a kickback.
Gabriella De Leon can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.