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Review: Toro Y Moi, 'What For?'

What For?
Courtesy of the artist
What For?

The first sound you hear on Toro y Moi's fourth album is the buzz and roar of race-car engines on the speedway. For those who've followed Chaz Bundick since his debut album, 2010's Causers Of This, it's a peculiar sound. Bundick has never sounded like a man taken with velocity; with speeding quickly from one destination to the next. As one of the early progenitors of "chillwave," Toro y Moi has been about an unhurried sound, with a discography full of detours and pit stops: pretty folk garlands, gleaming R&B, wobbly '80s boogie. Bundick has absorbed all of it into his music along the way, with Underneath The Pine and Anything In Return revealing new wrinkles in his approach.

That car noise that opens What For? soon slows down and gives way to the dreamy, fuzzy guitar lines of "What You Want." After the flirtations with the dance floor on last year's Les Sins side project — wherein Bundick was taken with acid house and early hip-hop — it seemed as if he might stay there awhile. But What For? takes a U-turn back to feel-tingly guitar-pop, with winsome results.

The 10 songs here are based in a standard band set-up of guitar, bass, keys and drums, and are wholly obsessed with classic '70s pop radio, with all but two topping four minutes. "The Flight" evokes memories of Todd Rundgren's early-'70s heyday: Vintage keys and guitars swoop in at the chorus, the drums percolating underneath, Bundick's voice gently phased to give it all a hazy feel. Almost every track has a stylistic flourish that reveals a debt to Runt, as well as the likes of Big Star and ELO.

Still, the interplay of Bundick with Unknown Mortal Orchestra guitarist Ruban Nielson and Real Estate associate Julian Lynch moves beyond mere homage. "Empty Nesters" flashes the sort of buoyant drums and bass that bring to mind Wilco's "Heavy Metal Drummer." But while the rhythm section holds things down, the psychedelic swirls of guitar, keys and harmonizing vocals shake free of gravity and wobble up toward the sky like a balloon. In "Buffalo," Toro y Moi's breezy groove makes for the perfect springtime listen, ideally with the windows on the race car rolled down.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andy Beta