Before his third album Anything in Return garnered the critical praise it did, before it even dropped Chaz Bundick, Toro y Moi, said — with the certainty of one David Foster Wallace on taking a cruise — that writing the album was fun, but he would never do it again.
Toro y Moi
“I’ve seen artists turn into characters, and I don’t want to become the ‘pop music guy,’ ” Bundick once said in an interview with Pitchfork. “Pop music is awesome, but I like to keep changing it up … I’m not worried about repeating myself — I’m more worried that I’d just get bored.”
Sagacious words from the then-26-year-old. Boredom is a universal human fear no doubt. But unlike us common folk who cope with boredom’s chains via Facebook and Caribbean cruises, Bundick seems to have figured out how to evade the affliction altogether, at least musically … well, at least until now.
A brief tour: Listening to Bundick’s four records chronologically is a testament to an artist who detests pigeons and dreads holes, and refuses to play in the neat genre boxes us critics create. The dreamy slink of his 2010 debut Causers of This — considered foundational to the rise of chillwave — was followed starkly a year later by the velvety funk of Underneath the Pines, which proved Bundick could compose for more than a laptop. Then, in 2013, he released the weirdly danceable and unclassifiable Anything in Return, which Ian Cohen described on Pitchfork as a composite of everywhere Bundick had taken Toro y Moi to date.
“So there’s silky R&B, roller-rink pop, bubblegum funk, tasteful chillout music, all unified by a voice that’s grown more confident with time,” Cohen wrote.
What For? is Bundick’s sharpest departure from everything Toro y Moi has been, and his disappointing attempt at a throwback ’70s pop radio record. The album opens to the zoom of racecars on a track, speeds through ten songs in barely 36 minutes, and never really slows down to catch its breath. When the music stopped after my first listen-through, I kept waiting for it to start again, hoping Bundick had included a hidden track or something. It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who’s credited as a founder of chillwave.
My main bone with the album is its lack of a defining moment. Even the singles, “Buffalo” and “Empty Nesters,” which have Bundick’s new band at its best, aren’t really memorable. And for all the time Bundick spent trying to write catchy melodies, there’s no song on the album truly tempting to return to, no refrain to stick in our heads, no groove that makes us want to dance, no real surprises. The album naturally fades to the background and doesn’t demand my attention. In a word, What For? is boring.
Call it hipsterness or what you like, but the Bundick aesthetic is appealing — he once told Rookie Magazine he likes White Vans, hiking, mid-century Danish furniture, Weezer, The Blue Album by Weezer and rock documentaries, in that order. And while the beachy guitars and traditional fills on What For? fit the ’70s aesthetic Bundick is aiming for, the album is missing the weirdness and awkwardness that made Toro y Moi so great in the past. Bundick may have been so concerned with escaping his own boredom, that he actually ended up writing a boring album.