By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor
Since Chaz Bundick, the mastermind behind the dance-pop project known as Toro y Moi, made a significant jump onto the indie scene in 2010, he has constantly found ways to subtly reinvent himself with every release.
The breakout album, Underneath the Pine sought ways to provide a new outlook to music in dance clubs with catchy funk-inspired beats with traces of flat vocal melodies. His official sophomore release Anything in Return, though similar to its predecessor in rhythm had more of a pop emphasis in many of the singles, providing for memorable hooks. With Toro y Moi’s latest release, What For?, listeners experience perhaps the most distant style in terms of instrumentation and vocals.
Although Toro y Moi wears his influences on his sleeve musically, it has never been more prevalent than in What For? Synthesizers are heavily depended on through many of the tracks, and act as a way to mask Bundick’s bland singing. Many of the songs give off the feeling that they belong in a soundtrack from the late 1970s or early 80s. Understandably so, the lo-fi, bedroom style recordings is Bundick’s style, but it overpowers much of the instrumentation that is displayed on even the strongest singles.
Despite synth repetition, What For?, released Tuesday, allows Toro y Moi to undertake a different role in how to still write an attention grabbing pop song. Bundick abandons much of the electronic beats that made him an underground darling and replaces it with actual guitars and drum sets. This could have been an absolute failure, but Bundick executes the risk with a handful of catchy singles. “Empty Nesters” is spearheaded by a clean guitar riff, which is accompanied by a delayed riff in the background. Again, a 70s rock influence is clearly prevalent, but Toro y Moi’s change in direction from dance pop is refreshing.
You can make out Bundick trying to break out of his shell slightly, reaching out into various indie subgenres, and the garage rock adjustment may work out best for him. Dance pop is usually accompanied by solid vocal backtracking, and Bundick clearly lacks in that department. So for tracks like “Empty Nesters” and even “Spell it Out” to have a garage rock and somewhat psychedelic tone adheres more to his vocal style.
The mild change in style, however, is one of the only things to look forward to with What For? From Bundick’s monotonous vocals to his even dryer songwriting, this latest release shows little to no improvement from previous albums. Every song is well-structured and possesses a melody that could benefit extremely well from a good lyricist. Instead, Bundick continues to write about casual topics that every love songwriter has addressed for decades.
This definitely has the potential to be one of those summer albums that you jam out to in the car, but don’t really pay attention to the substance of each individual track. Unfortunately, this has become a consistent problem with Toro y Moi, as well as many other artists that continue to emerge from the indie underground. Eventually, this lo-fi obsession that makes listeners reminisce about simpler musical times will fade, unless the songwriting and vocals improve over time.