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. Written and recorded over eight months in his home-studio in Berkley, California, What For? sounds like it could have been snatched from the late ‘60s, veneered of course by Bundick’s characteristic knack for pop melody and production.
At the beginning of the year, "Empty Nesters" and consequent drops such as the infectious "Buffalo" showed Toro Y Moi at his most fun, and these kind of tracks make up the first half of What For? Both are playful with their rhythms, and the former’s glistening guitar-work will no doubt earn it a spot on many summer playlists.
But sandwiched in the middle of the record is "Lilly", a gem that combines Supertramp-esque verses with lustrous, sleepy choruses that evoke blissful emotions that are so silky they’re almost intangible. These dreamy melodies are in keeping with the record’s nostalgia that harks back to the Summer of Love era in bands such as The Byrds and The Mamas and The Papas, but the album’s crisp production makes them all the more vibrant. With the simple lyric hook, "Like me, like you", the emphasis is on the melody. Indeed, although Bundick has commented on his ambiguity as purposeful, the vague lyricism throughout does at times leave us with something to be desired. But regardless of this, the melodies here are so powerful as such that it is not an overstatement to say that with "Lilly" Bundick has created a song to fall in love to.
Whilst the track is certainly the highlight, this is not to suggest that the record troughs dramatically thereafter, although 25 minutes or so in tracks like "Half Dome" and "Run Baby Run" do pass by somewhat nondescriptly. They are not bad songs, and if they were summoned individually on shuffle they would surely be enjoyed, but in the grand scheme of the album they are indicative that What For? is slightly less varied than previous releases and exist just add to the gestalt of a ‘rock’ album.
Thankfully, though, What For? ends on a high point. "Yeah Right" drops all at once into one of the most paced and sophisticated compositions Bundick has ever written, blessed with delightful chord progressions and lead arguably by the colourful bass that actually deserves credit for from start to end of the record. The sarcasm loaded in the song’s title gains and interesting twist from, again, incredibly enticing melodies. It blends that lo-fi, slacker sound so popular today with huge and anthemic power in a way that many of Bundick’s peers seem incapable of doing and as such What For?’s closing number highlights that Bundick, under any guise, is one of the most important songwriters of our generation.