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. Its atmosphere – woozy, psychedelic and, yes, “suave” – recalls Bundick’s 2011 breakthrough Underneath The Pines. And yet Bundick’s prediction back in 2012 wasn’t too far off: this is the first Toro Y Moi album which sounds like it could have been made by a live band playing in the same room as each other.
When he emerged back at the turn of the decade, Toro Y Moi was positioned at the vanguard of chillwave, an achingly cool musical movement that was perhaps the defining sound of alternative music circa 2011. Yet What For?’s defining characteristic is its sheer uncoolness. Throughout the album, Bundick plays with musical tropes that would be off-limits to a more self-conscious indie musician (or, perhaps, himself five years ago).
Buffalo and Lilly both feature dreamy choruses that are positively Burt Bacharachian. The Flight has an extraordinarily campy piano interlude that recalls Paul McCartney’s most saccharine solo work. Yeah Right has some hernia-risking falsetto backing vocals that fall just the right side of pastiche. Run Baby Run sounds like the A&M label’s 1970s output placed in a blender and stirred with honey – it’s completely glorious. Best of all might be lead single Empty Nesters, whose stupendously fun chorus is worthy of Neil Finn at his poppy peak.
What For?’s brief running time (10 songs over 37 minutes) doesn’t leave much margin for error and, unfortunately, it’s blighted by some filler. Ratcliff, Spell It Out and Half Dome maintain the enjoyably gooey production values of the rest of the album, but they’re melodically insubstantial and soon become eminently skippable.
Prior to What For?, Chaz Bundick moved from his debut album’s chillwave to Underneath The Pine’s druggy lounge music and then on to Anything In Return’s club-friendly pop. Now, on What For?, he’s shown that he can write great songs, albeit not quite as consistently as one would like. Despite that, What For? still contains over twenty minutes of some of the year’s most decadently enjoyable music. A treat.