Chaz Bundick is a fascinating musician. Rising up from the musical ghost town that is Columbia, the producer/multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter is famous for being one of the founding fathers of the short-lived chillwave genre. Blogs have spent many an article trying to explain Chillwave, but it’s best demonstrated by it’s two flagship songs: “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out and “Blessa” by Toro Y Moi (the pen name for Bundick). Lo-fi production, brightly tinged melodies, sampling, and lack of emphasis on lyrics best define the genre. The minute blogs started picking it up, its artists were done with it. Since that era passed, Bundick’s sound has been described as funky synth pop.
Much like the chillwave movement, Bundick’s music is very hit or miss. He’s the JR Smith of music: sometimes his work is incredibly strong, and other times he throws brick after brick. He’s polarizing, but he is an important to the game/art for his innovation. Bricks like the Causers of This album, “Good Hold” from Underneath the Pine, and the majority of the June 2009 album come off as unfocused, pretentious, and lazy. On the other hand, Bundick has NAILED it recently, with makes such as “Still Sound” off Pine and his Les Sins project Michael (which featured jams like “Bother” and “Why”). The last album he put out under Toro Y Moi, Anything in Return, is in my opinion the best thing he has put out. His production across the board is remarkable and it goes along with strong hooks and thoughtful songwriting. His best song in his discography is “So Many Details”, which is perfect example of all these positives in motion:
The Les Sins Michael album followed Anything in Return, where Bundick went for a more electronic feel. It was captivating and entertaining, leaving me very anxious to hear Toro Y Moi’s What For?. Unfortunately, I found the album much like I find JR Smith: hit-or-miss.
It seems as though Chaz Bundick’s projects have splintered the style of Anything in Return. The electronic, sampling themes of the album were used in his Les Sins album Michael. The funky, pop-centric sounds are on display in What For?
Splintering isn't always a bad thing and in some instances on this album it's a really good thing. It gave Bundick the chance to focus more intently on funky pop-rock. Some of the riffs in this album are incredibly catchy. The bass line in "Lilly" sounds like it's striaght out of the soundtrack for Hair, and then the song descends into a reggae-esque guitar pattern with some breezing synth work. Likewise, the guitar riff in "Spell It Out" could've been something Mark Ronson composed. The song is a sassiest breakup song I've heard in a while, highlighted by the chorus, where Bundick asks "Do you understand what must be done/Don't make it into something that it's not/Do I need to spell it out?"
The strongest parts of What For? are the singles. "Buffalo" is a stupifying jam reminiscent of Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like An Eagle." It filled with dreamy syth work and a groovy guitar riff that probably wears its own leisure. Much like Pharrell and Daft Punk, "Buffalo" is clearly in the disco/funk aesthetic.
The album's peak is "Empty Nesters." Here, Bundick takes a turn for the psychedelic with its shiny guitar and guitar. The song even references Weezer's "Undone (The Sweater Song)"in the lines "But all those zeroes after this one/There is no one to destroy your sweater." It has a nostalgic feel and it kind of reminds me of summer vacations in high school. Oh, and the video for it is weird as hell:
While there are moments on What For? that shine bright, I found a fair amount of this album underwhelming. With the exception of "So Many Details" and a few other songs on Anything In Return, Bundick is not a great lyricist. In fact, it's his main weakness: his lyrics are either too cryptic or too nonsensical to understand. Seriously, try and decipher "Empty Nesters". It's not that the people who make annotations for Genius should ever be counted on deciphering important lyrics, but barely any of them take a stab at it on this album! Honestly, what the fuck is this dude singing about? Maybe I'm not intelligent enough to understand his lyrics, but they just seem lazy to me.
Bundick's strength has always been his production. He's mastered chillwave and electro-synth music in the past with albums like Cause of This and Underneath the Pine. He does his best to create indie pop/funk vibes here, but more often than not he comes up short. The opening "What You Want" and the closing "Yeah Right" are bland and uneventful. The only ones that truly jump out are the aforementioned singles, but by the time came out I had grown accustomed to them.
SOURCE: The Bowery Presents
While I always support and encourage an artist's growth, it seems as though Bundick had a setback with this album. Had the styles of Michael and What For? been merged like they were with Anything in Return, this would be a much more positive review.
Overall, I think this album was a miss. I may be frustrated with Chad Bundick like I can be watching JR Smith, but I will still follow his ever-expanding career. The rule is the same in music as it is
5.4/10: Take a listen if you please, but the singles are all you need out of this album.