The final lyrics of the song “What You Want,” the opening number off Toro y Moi’s recently released fourth studio album, What For?, ask a rhetorical question: “Does anyone know where we go from here?” It’s often voiced in train stations and college graduation speeches alike, although when put forth by Chaz Bundick, the phrase begins to earn complexity, revealing a layer of personal inquiry beneath its subtle surface.
“Most of the lyrics on the album are about me and my experiences, but that line in particular [can be] seen as, ‘Where do I go with music, but also just with life in general?’ ” Bundick says. “I’m doing something now that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and it’s kind of surreal. I guess I’m just sort of wondering: What do I want to do now that I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do?”
And so maybe the answer to the question is washed out all over What For?. Comprising ten tracks that barely beat 36 minutes, Bundick’s latest offering is instantly recognizable as a tempo change from his 2013 electronic-heavy Anything in Return. To follow his progression from the sample-collage 2010 debut Causers of This to today’s rich endeavor into psychedelic power-pop is to see the building, perfecting, and eventual dismantling of Toro y Moi’s style. Whereas previous records began with the piano keys, What For?‘s foundation focuses on guitar, a style exploration Bundick hints he may continue to pursue in future recordings.
On the next page: Bundick and That Seventies Flow
[“I feel like there’s still more I want to do with guitars,” he says. “But this is a good first step, a good intro album for people who aren’t really familiar with me because they thought I was strictly electric r&b. I hope they [can] enjoy this album a lot, too.”
A bedroom artist since the start, Bundick recorded What For? in his Berkeley, California, home studio, calling upon friends Julian Lynch and Unknown Mortal Orchestra guitarist Ruban Nielson for assistance. (Nielson’s unique guitar tone is an asset on standout track “Half Dome.”) Though the record sounds as if it had been mixed at Sound City or some other classic analog incubator, it was 100 percent digitally recorded, though Bundick drew inspiration from past recording methods.
“My low-key technique is definitely influenced by classic Seventies styles,” he says. “That’s my favorite era of music, mostly because that’s when I feel like production and music started getting really interesting. People started going further out and changing their approach.”
Certain vocal sections on What For? ring with a higher treble and tone, which was Bundick’s intention when mixing voice with guitar.
“I found that, from a production standpoint, that’s sort of how I like the vocals to sound when used with guitars,” he says. (Think John Lennon in “Come Together” or “I Am the Walrus.”) “Because of the six strings, the physical sound of the guitar is so full. It’s really hard to place vocals on top of it, especially when there are drums and bass,” he says. “Usually the only space left is where that treble area is. My voice is already that timbre, but I also was singing in a different timbre than most of the previous albums.”
Bundick gives off the impression that if he were to be left alone with a napkin and pen, that paper surface would suddenly transform into something brilliant. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2009 with a degree in graphic design, and besides Toro y Moi on the musical front, he has the dance outlet Les Sins, the solo expression Sides of Chaz, and the collaborative album Trance Zen Dental Spa he released last December with current tour mate Vinyl Williams. In short, he’s very busy, but that’s the deal when you’re inspired and well versed in multiple mediums.
“I’m always trying to find something to do,” he says. “And I want to keep music as a hobby and not just treat it like a job. I want to make sure it’s something that I want to do, not something that I have to do.”
Toro y Moi performs at Terminal 5 on May 1 with Vinyl Williams and Sinkane. While tickets are sold out, some are available on the secondary market.
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