WVAU’s #9 Album of 2015: "What For?" by Toro Y Moi

Matthew Reise

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One of the most hotly contested indie albums of 2015, a lot has been said about Toro Y Moi‰’s fourth studio album What For?. Drastically different than anything frontman Chaz Bundick had ever released, the band‰’s new sound caught the indie music community totally off-guard.

Bracing for another characteristic electro-R&B/funk album, What For?‰’s vibe initially came as a shock. Everything seemed more like lo-fi indie rock, a throwback to classic rhythms and uncomplicated musical schemes. Music critics everywhere argued over what could have possibly motivated Bundick to betray his electronic fans—he needed to reconnect with his roots, he is maturing musically, yadda yadda etc etc.

In actuality, Bundick was growing weary. An exclusive Rolling Stone interview in 2013 illuminated the artist‰’s growing struggle with his own musical niche. “I‰’m straight-up getting tired of music,‰” he divulged, fearing that the distaste he was feeling for R&B/funk would lead to a jaded musical career—something to be avoided at all costs. What For? was a step into the unknown as a means of survival, rather than a willy-nilly shot in the dark. He tried something new, and the overall reaction from the public was that he succeeded.

The most notable quality of What For? is its likeness to other burnout lo-fi college indie acts like Mac Demarco and Wild Nothing. What this new crop of songs lacks in synthesized loops and aggressive syncopation, they make up for with real live instrumentation and a lovely haze. This record is warm. It feels organic, genuine, true, and heartfelt. Songs feel outwardly happy—something new for Toro Y Moi‰’s sound. Hit track “Buffalo‰” is upbeat and guitar heavy. Others like “Lilly‰” are very bass oriented indie tracks with heavy jazz influences that add to the authenticity and realness of the sound.

A key ingredient to What For? is nostalgia. Something about the rawness of the sound, the sepia-like haze, the simplicity of the musical structure harks back to everyone‰’s individual coming-of-age. In particular, 6-minute trip “Yeah Right‰” is practically dripping with a thirst for how things used to be. Lyrics are sparse among rolling guitars, but slow and simple lines like “Hey, how‰’ve you been / Who are your new friends? Why did you bring them? / Lets hang out soon, I‰’ll give you a call‰” sung by a voice racked with concealed emotion are relatable enough to make anyone dive into some old photographs and smile at the memories they‰’ve had. While “Yeah Right‰” looks back on the past in a longing way, “Empty Nesters‰” is a euphoric indie rock jam that‰’s a bit less emotionally involved. Lyrics like “smothered and covered by my high school dreams‰” look back on the past while not getting too entrenched in the way things were.

Despite all the bickering and change associated this new album, it still achieves the same goal: What For? is grade A chill-out music. Bundick is the master of mood-making, and the relaxed air of his newest work still ranks just as ~high~ as previous works.