Chillwave, oft-maligned for being a toss-away hipster synth-pop genre, wasn’t such a bad movement to emerge from. But to witness the pace with which Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick has distanced himself from it, one would think it was an intellectual backwater. Since debuting with 2010’s Causers of This, Bundick, 28, has been both prolific and stylistically voracious, exploring genres from 1990s house to silky R&B during the course of two more full-lengths, a B-sides collection and a dance album as Les Sins.
What For? is yet another of Bundick’s quixotic genre surveys. This time, he’s on a psychedelic ’60s and ’70s rock kick, and the sheer number of influences peeking through the sound is staggeringly diverse: Shades of The Free Design, Badfinger, Steely Dan, Small Faces and Shuggie Otis color the LP. If the strutting funk of “Buffalo” doesn’t get listeners in the mood to play Twister, then the digital slap-bass of “Lilly” or the fluttering rhythm guitars of “Spell It Out” might do the trick. On “The Flight,” Bundick lays flanged vocals over an in-the-pocket beat made for lava lamp lighting. Elsewhere, “Run Baby Run” sounds like a missing Beach Boys song, right down to its title.
It’s all great fun, and Bundick’s continued growth as a songwriter and producer is admirable. Yet there’s a scholarly aloofness to the proceedings that leaves the songs feeling like they’re protected by museum glass. Bundick has done more than enough to convince everyone that he’s not some fly-by-night stunt artist. But if he can figure out how to make music that’s bigger than the sum of his record collection, perhaps he can leave his chillwave past behind for good.