Toro Y Moi

The musical evolution of Chaz Bundick, a.k.a. Toro Y Moi, is characterized by such dramatic stylistic leaps of faith over such a short period of time that it’s as though he’s executing a progression plotted out years ago. That kind of calculation is prudent for an artist to emerge from a sub-genre as limiting as chillwave, the loop-heavy scene for which Bundick’s 2010 debut Causers Of This is a founding document. Bundick has dodged pigeonholing by never staying in one place long enough, shifting toward live instrumentation and warmer, more elaborate arrangements on 2011’s Underneath The Pine and 2013’s Anything In Return while funneling his electronic dance impulses into Michael, the album Bundick released last year via his Les Sins side project. His outsize ambitions make Bundick to chillwave as Jack White is to garage rock, and like White before him, his itinerant genre exploration can make him seem more like a dilettante than a polyglot.

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What For? continues Bundick’s sonic migration with a juke towards layered psychedelic rock so jarring it could just as easily have been released as a side project itself. But unlike Michael’s drum-machine goof-offs, these songs aren’t doodles or structural experiments. They’re more fleshed-out examples of the pop songs Bundick has always performed under his Toro Y Moi moniker, but draped in a hazy guitar fuzz that makes them sound like Tame Impala mash-ups. The melancholy melodies are recognizably Bundick’s, and even when the tunes get peppier, as on the sunny lead single “Empty Nesters,” they’re paired with wistful lyrics: “Smothered and covered by my high school dreams / Call mom and daddy ’cause the nest is empty / So are you.” Bundick’s songs remain danceable, at least in stretches, because he falls back on disco passages reminiscent of one of his most beloved songs, Underneath The Pine’s “New Beat.” He pushes fully into neo-boogie on the irresistable “Spell It Out,” which is a credible Bee Gees homage when Bundick slips into his high falsetto, but even that song builds to a distorted guitar solo.

The influences are retro throughout the record, but his ’70s fascination has turned toward soft rock and blue-eyed soul, with Bundick mimicking Ambrosia for large swaths of “The Flight” and the funkier side of Steely Dan in “Lilly.” In those two songs, as with most of the album’s 10 tracks, Bundick veers in a surprising direction, then back into a bouncier groove typical of his earlier work. The lack of follow-through makes What For? feel more like a lark than the next step in Bundick’s evolution. Even at its most thrilling, What For? manages to sound somehow too daring and not daring enough.