Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
Chock-full of gluey basslines and gleaming synths, Outer Peace is very much a dance record and it's pure ecstasy
Props to Chaz Bear – he’s got one hell of a work ethic. Since releasing his epoch-defining debut in 2010 (remember chillwave?), not a year has gone by in which he hasn’t put out new music in one form or another. Many of his contemporaries struggled to maintain relevancy after the chillwave bubble burst, yet Bear has gone from strength to strength – and he’s pulled it off by repeatedly reinventing himself. Whether it’s funk or pop, psychedelic rock or hip-hop, he says "thank u, next" to any and all styles of music he gets his hands on.
Enter Outer Peace – the closest thing Bear has made to a Toro y Moi dance record. While not the drastic departure his (largely instrumental) collaboration with jazz duo The Mattson 2 was, the whiplash, coming after the sparse ambient R'n'B of 2017’s Boo Boo, is very real. At ten tracks – none crossing the four-minute mark – it’s a brisk listen, but the arrangements are dense and the production brims with character. Featherweight jam Ordinary Pleasure’s hook condenses the album’s MO into four words: 'Maximise all the pleasure'.
Nowhere is that ethos made clearer than in stomping centrepiece Freelance. It’s a glistening disco-cum-funk throwback that’s at once an ode to working from home and a critique of consumerist culture. 'Silver or black mirror, what’s the difference?' Bear dryly asks atop earthy chords and squelching guitar licks before name-dropping outdoor-turned-streetwear brand Patagonia and resolving that maybe he’s just getting old. On the more atmospheric Monte Carlo he laments having to take public transport, his Auto-Tuned vocals drifting over rolling hi-hats as he daydreams about riding in the eponymous car.
That jaded irreverence is a through-line of the album, and marks a U-turn for the usually earnest Bear. In some ways, it may seem a regression. Boo Boo was overlong and occasionally self-indulgent, but his candid depiction of the aftermath of a breakup was nothing if not authentic. By comparison, Outer Peace can feel vacuous.
But it almost seems unfair to grade it against past Toro y Moi albums; to criticise Outer Peace for not having the pathos of its predecessor would be to criticise Bear’s greatest strength as a musician – his chameleonism. Heartbreak is the lifeblood of an R'n'B/pop album, and that’s what Boo Boo was. Chock-full of gluey basslines and gleaming synths, Outer Peace is very much a dance record and it’s pure ecstasy.
Listen to: Freelance, Laws of the Universe, Monte Carlo, Who Am I