The second track on Toro y Moi’s sixth album, Outer Peace, shrewdly serves up its mission statement in a high register: “Maximize all the pleasure,” the song’s hook rings out, desperately and longingly, perhaps indicative of the album’s terseness, too. Upon first glance, the song’s intentions appear strictly carnal — the grooves are sunken and the bass warbles around friskily like bodies writhing during a moment of intimacy.
However, beneath the feel-good disco-cum-funk lies light despair. ‘We must take advantage of every fleeting moment,’ he seems to be muttering to himself. Tellingly, Chaz Bundick, now known as Chaz Bear, grouches here whether sex even sells anymore. He is, at once, an optimist and a self-admitted cynic. Consequently, Outer Peace is a variety of emotions — despondency, perplexity, happiness, sadness — bundled into one, yet it coalesces neatly into one of his better projects in years. Pithy one-liners — “Mystic staring at his phone for oneness” — punctuate this short, lively, and slick album, a color-saturated treatise on a dystopian present, not any far-flung future.
Six albums in, the artist known as Toro y Moi has refused to make the same album twice. Galvanized by the act of shedding old skin, Bear, now in his thirties — an indie-scene veteran and a chillwave trailblazer — is still reaching for new, uncharted pockets in between popular genres. While there was a slight otherworldliness to his early work, Boo Boo, his last album, peeled back layers to reveal the multitudes of Chaz, and there emerged an artist that not only shines with inventiveness and intelligence, but a person of commendable fortitude (a near-death experience) and forthrightness (an ugly break-up) in the face of personal tragedy.
There are echoes on this new album of Todd Terje on what sounds like a futuristic ’70s funk edit (“Laws of the Universe”); Canadian producer Project Pablo comes to mind on the liquid warmth of a lo-fi disco cut (“Who Am I”); flattened down trap drums fall behind shards of Bear’s decoder-heavy vocals on the closest things to rap songs here (“New House,” “Monte Carlo”). Emotionally and sonically, Outer Peace can be understood to mirror what it means to be young, alive, and fractured in 2019: concerned with your future, preoccupied with your immediate present, and unforgiving of your past. This new record, which Bear describes as being a response to “disposable culture” and how it affects creativity, zeroes in on the more whimsical, cartoonish elements of modern malaise.
“I can’t tell if I’m into something because it’s good or because it’s popular, and I’m not sure what it is anymore,” Bear said to Highsnobiety, sounding vaguely disoriented of the album’s inspiration, “because we somehow managed to flip ugly into high fashion and the sub-culture is not mainstream.” He’s a smart, highly trend-attuned writer. But much of the tracklisting highlights are, in patches, overshadowed by his attempts to subvert something that, ironically, feels all too familiar.
The thread through it all is a very unspecific emotional state: Bear more often than not fails at burrowing into a sound so much that it creates its own forcefield of life. Ideas are explored, tended to with gentle artistry, but rarely does one come away with something more grand, or more close. His music can be funky, melodic, and playful — sometimes all at the same time — but isolationism and the trauma of modern life are not interrogated enough. Nor are the sounds exploratory and transportive enough, leaning too heavily on the vocoder and twinkling synths, his voice sometimes feels left behind.
All this is to say: Chaz Bear is multitalented, focused even, but his songs tend to suffer from a lack of inertia. They sometimes wind on without any true tangible climax — like on the red-eyed, atmospheric ballad “Miss Me,” which features Awful Records’ ABRA, and the redundant tropical house of “Baby Drive It Down.” On other occasions, they get washed over in their own self-awareness. The WET-assisted “Monte Carlo,” in which Kelly Zutrau’s pitched voice borders on ingratiating, possesses no noticeable charms beyond Bear’s Young Thug-esque yelps. Except here, the yelps wallow out like cries for help.
He is a maverick, though. Wrapping a literal existential crisis on “Who Am I” in mosaic-like layers of comforting house synths, he shows how deft a hand he has at juxtapositioning bright sonics with the otherwise heady subject matter (Vince Staples’ FM! album springs to mind for similar reasons). “Freelance,” which this site named as one of 2018’s best hits, is one of the more enamoring tracks on Outer Peace. On its final verse, as sunny synths pop and house drums slap, Bear slips into a slyly devilish flow, with a certain Frank Ocean coming to mind. The music, though, is undeniably Toro y Moi: sleek yet strange, danceable yet thoughtful.
Chaz Bear has, on the basis of all of his output as Toro y Moi, always trod the line between outright cerebral dance music and indie-pop carefully. Outer Peace, depending on the setting, could be categorized as an album of tasteful chill music, playlist filler, or music to soundtrack a sun-drenched rooftop party. That said, it is not intrinsically dancing music, nor does it strive to be. It’s a hodgepodge of inconsequentially fun music and revealing monologues from within Chaz Bear’s ever-pensive mind.
Read our interview and editorial with Toro on the album’s creation here.