Review: Toro y Moi – What For

★★★★☆

Is nostalgia the emptiest emotion? It’s the mildly affecting product of selective memory and sun-dappled romanticism. With What For? Toro y Moi, the pseudonym of record producer Chaz Bundick, returns with his fourth LP since 2011’s movement-defining chillwave opus, Causers of This. This latest album is a complete stylistic departure from his previous sample-based work, instead utilising a live band to evoke a fuzzy, beachy, 70s groove. It’s an entirely empty appropriation of sound, a patina of relaxed, lazy vibes – perfect then for a record about misplaced nostalgia for adolescent ennui.

The album is a featherweight, fluffy delight. It’s slight, at only ten tracks lasting thirty-six minutes, and full of deceptively simple lyrics. Its shallow soundscapes make sense for such a charmingly breezy record, but the songs harbour a knowing darkness. In ‘Empty Nesters’ Bundick pairs an incredibly catchy guitar hook with a kiss-off to his high school sweetheart, singing “call Mom and Daddy cos the nest is empty, and so are you.” Ratcliff slyly acknowledges his own passing affection for 70s rock stylings: “the song finishes and we still try to sing along, rock ‘n’ roll’s here to stay.” On album closer, ‘Yeah Right’, he asks his former flame, “who are your new friends, why did you bring them?” before the album peters out into a woozy nothingness of mournful melodies.

‘Lilly’ comes closest to recalling the experimentation of previous albums, with its deep synthy echoes, and drawn out, astral melodies. Faded vocals give way to a delicate Piano outro which disappears, tinkling into nothingness. It’s sweat but sad. But on the whole it’s an impressive expansion for Bundick’s project, broadening his musical ambitions, whilst remaining true to the wistful essence of his earlier work. What For? still feels like Toro y Moi, even if it doesn’t necessarily sound like it.

Bundick’s long-buried vocals are more distinctive than ever. The vocoder echoes from some indistinct recent past, lending his words an everyman quality. Yet his delivery is also the most varied it’s ever been. On ‘Spell it Out’ and ‘Run Baby Run’, surely the closest Toro tracks can conceivably come to anthemic sing-a-longs, he affects a surprisingly effective 90s pop-punk whine; what could have been if Sum 41 had been content to sunbathe by the pool. His voice blends in amongst the fuzzy, funky 70s-lite stylings. It’s a breezy, feel good album that’ll play you right through till autumn.

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What For? is likely to be divisive. Your mileage will vary, depending on how romantic your worldview. It’s not particularly distinct, or particularly incisive, but as summery alt-pop goes, it’s an absolute blast of cool air through the window as you speed down a highway and into a sunset.