In recent years Toro Y Moi mastermind Chaz Bundick distanced himself, both in print and on record, from the “chillwave” genre his 2010 debut album, Causers of This, helped popularize. His subsequent releases featured increased helpings of R&B, funk and dance (particularly with side project, Les Sins), stylistic decisions that injected his brand of “chillwave” with a pulse and sensuality that invited fans to engage rather than zone out. On What For?, his fourth studio album under the Toro Y Moi moniker, the 28-year-old South Carolina native returns to a more relaxed sound that recalls box sets of rock oldies exalted on late-night infomercials, signifying a time when music meant something.

Those familiar with Toro Y Moi’s previous music, regardless of genre incarnation, know better than to expect What For? to provide meaning in the wee hours while combating insomnia. Where Bundick has excelled in the past, and continues to excel on many of this album’s 10 tracks, is creating a Zen vibe splashed with nostalgia that colors the rendering of how things were and how things could be. Regardless of tempo or instrumentation, the vibe remains laid back, like a daydream set to music, and Bundick is the host. His wispy voice is neither strong nor captivating in any traditional sense and rarely do his lyrics rise above generic journal scrambling, but his presence as a mood enhancer is invaluable.

The best example of this mood enhancer phenomenon comes on “Half Dome,” an unassuming electric guitar number that unexpectedly blossoms in its chorus thanks to both lyrical repetition and Bundick’s overlapping vocal tracks, inspiring images of long-separated lovers running into each other’s arms. Bundick’s airy vocal melody on “Lilly” provides the sensation of drifting from one puffy white cloud to the next. Elsewhere, opening track “What You Want” unleashes an immediate jolt of euphoria with its race car intro and psych-pop longings, while the limber funk of single “Buffalo” shows Bundick hasn’t relinquished his love for that genre. Even the piano keys underlining “Ratcliff” help emphasize the album’s most lovelorn nod to nostalgia and maturity.

Not all of the album’s attempts at straddling the line between creating good vibes and interesting music work. “The Flight” almost jumps the chill shark, with its meandering guitar, dream-referencing lyrics and overarching focus on contentment. The sentimentality of “Run Baby Run” makes it seem like a way longer listen than the two-minute, 45-second run time. Album closer “Yeah Right,” at six-plus minutes long, also flirts with a lethargy that might cause some listeners to turn off the record earlier than Bundick intended or return to the album’s earlier tracks if you haven’t been sufficiently chilled. At times like these, What For? feels like it is on cruise control, in danger of running out of gas before it reaches the finish line, and Bundick is too reserved to provide the raw emotion needed for fuel.

On “Ratcliff,” Bundick repeats the line, “Rock and roll is here to stay,” in the most mild-mannered fashion imaginable. It’s soothing like a brain massage or the warm towel the barber places on your neck after a fresh cut. Bundick won’t come out and say it, because frankly it would sound ridiculous, but chillwave, if as nothing more than a state of mind, is here to stay, too. Whether that means the robots promoting music on late-night TV 30 years from now will be singing the praises of What For? is another story, as unknowable as the answer to the album’s amorphous title question.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Whites: by Richard Price

You don’t need Adderall to feel the pulse of Price’s pages or his empathy for his characte…