Toro y Moi, Chaz Bundick‘s main musical project, has never been content to remain still or stagnant. Changes in sound abound, and longtime fans will hardly recognize the composer of “Blessa” as the same person who is now giving us What For?, a foray into the already saturated world of mid-tempo, guitar driven “indie-psych.” Unlike his last full length offering, Anything in Return, his dabbling comes off as unfocused and in spots uninspired.
The choice of “Empty Nesters” as a single belies a public-relations approach to his new sound. “No, really guys, I’m into this now.” It does happen to be one of the better songs on the album, joining the ridiculously upbeat funk of “Spell It Out,” and the sultry slink of “Buffalo,” songs that could hold their own with any of Toro y Moi’s best compositions. The transition from “New Beat” or even “Cakes” to “Buffalo” makes some sense, there’s a red thread of fun, irresponsibility, dancing, and youthful energy flowing through Bundick’s best music.
For some reason, however, What For? doesn’t want to give listeners moments like that on a consistent basis. The album is front heavy, and a purchase on vinyl will most likely leave the B side mostly unplayed, as only one of the last five songs on the record (“Spell it Out”) is worth repeated listens. The other songs are Toro y Moi’s new digs, scurrying in the trenches that bands like Tame Implala have previously carved in the landscape. A quick listen to any selection on that band’s last record and then “Lilly,” will confirm the derivation. Indeed, listening to the closing piano on “Lilly” one might wonder how long Bundick has been waiting to inject Dungen-esque aesthetics into his compositions.
Other songs similar to “Lilly,” such as “The Flight,” “Run Baby Run,” and “Half Dome” are simply not captivating enough musically or lyrically, and will leave listeners with a sense of disappointment, and maybe some questions as to how much Bundick’s newer side project, Les Sins, is allowing him to exorcise his dancey demons to Toro y Moi’s peril. Why be in a mediocre pop-house-electro project and a mediocre indie-psych band at the same time when the best Toro y Moi material blended all of those elements masterfully? The last time Toro y Moi closed an album with a 6 minute jam it was Underneath the Pines‘ “Elise,” a poignant example of that mastery. This time it is a song called “Yeah Right,” the flattest and most unnecessary song of the mix.
What For? is not a horrible album, but the world needs another indie-psych band like an album review needs another cliche about heads with holes. An urge to constantly try new things is understandable, and sometimes admirable, but in this case it has caused an original voice to trod over saturated ground, losing a bit of his voice in the process. “Buffalo” has been a nice springtime jam, and “Spell It Out” will have some asses shaking during summer, and the entire album might serve as pleasant but ignored background music for the soirees of a particular set of music consumers and Bundick loyalists, but the artist has made the mistake of showing us what he is capable of at his best. What For? is quite a bit far off.