Toro Y Moi: What For?

Toro Y Moi turns on tunes in and drops out, but do you want to take that trip with him?

- Listening to What For? is a bit like running at a soft, inoffensive canter through a wintry teen graphic novel full of parkas, beanies, cafes on street corners, stationery, hanging out, cats named after members of riot-grrl bands, getting high, and secrets. This of course means that it possesses certain immediate qualities, some good, and some quite bad and schmaltzy; but is there a balance? Good question, me.

At the root of the album lie the antics of all-round irrepressible person Chazwick B. Bundick, aka Toro y Moi. His songs, despite managing to manifest themselves in different ways, have always felt like specially recollected, highly personal conversations with himself and with the unknown people he’s close to. This record doesn’t necessarily see him shunning that mode of songwriting, but it does take a little step in some “other” direction: a direction that seemingly has a lot to do with partying old school. Chaz is heard here profilerating the cheesy kind of psychedelia that is so appreciated when all anyone wants to do is smoke fat doobies together in a van in the ’70s. Indeed, the dusty, flaccid drumming, vintage organs, flange-tinted guitars, and rolling, syrupy bass licks that comprise these ten tracks invoke that achingly distant and daggy era to a tee.

And that’s totally cool, especially when it’s introduced by all those zooming noises. I had sudden unexplained flashbacks to Paradise City in Burnout, but the first two tracks - the flavoursome, Britpop-channelling What You Want, and the slinky slice of soul-funk Buffalo - end up being the album’s two best songs. Before long, Toro’s determination to be casual gets the better of him, as does his nasal, cutesy charm. This is where the balance between that knowing cheesiness and a certain air of trying much too hard to achieve it starts teetering towards the latter.

From its opening moments, The Flight, as a song, is plainly uninteresting. From that point onwards, disappointment starts rearing its bogus little head with bitter, undulant frequency, and the poor execution that permeates almost everything about the record, right down to the oddly to-the-point cover art, gradually becomes clearer. It’s certainly inconsistent, but that might be putting it a little lightly; even when Chaz reaches recognisable heights, the cluttered, boxy production smothers everything in dullness. The biggest example of this is Ratcliff, a song that finds Chaz spitting some actually quite lovely and evocative lines about how “She wears those earrings almost every day”, but the production is such that you’re given absolutely zero to grab on to, and you sort of feel like Chaz is trying to push his lyrics out from underneath all the sonic clutter while trying not to yell.

Spell It Out is the second side’s highlight, and sounds like the spoiled-brat son fathered intermittently by both Steely Dan and Ariel Pink. Half Dome, as well, is really quite ok, putting Connan Mockasin in some kind of Belle & Sebastian sphere, before checking in on Stone Roses in the chorus. The last two tracks completely fail to inspire, except for Yeah Right’s weirdly beautiful conclusion. All this makes me feel like What For? could have just been a great EP, but instead, we’re left with a mostly filler, not all that much killer full-length that comes off like a pretty dire version of Underneath The Pine (his amazing second record, and my personal fave).

So sure, What For? is breezy and sometimes fun, and certainly won’t challenge you into submission. It does, though, lack the character and consistent craftsmanship that makes Toro y Moi’s other work worth believing in. It’s by no means a disaster, but it’s a drop in form, and realistically that’s not always a terrible thing for an artist to experience. Let’s just hope he answers his own question with the next one.

- Joe Saxby.

Album Details

Album Title: What For?
Artist: Toro Y Moi
Record Label: (Carpark)