Toro y Moi-Outer Peace: Album Review

Having been on the frontlines of the chillwave moment, 2019 finds Chaz Bear much further away from steering the zeitgeist and a bit more comfortable reflecting it.  Not to say the whole album stews in the sounds of contemporary chill spotify, but the first 30 seconds definitely do as the now infamous chipped EDM vocal sample sparks the first tune.  Coupled with a few tropical house tricks, the album evokes a bit of skepticism, but Bear isn’t simply gaming algorithms here. Loosely about gig-economy anxieties and the general disconnect of the 2010s brand of silicon valley capitalism, “Outer Peace” is a buoyant, fun collection that doesn’t overstate anything or overstay its welcome.

The constant in Bear’s work is more forward vocal delivery and texture.  If chillwave is a more accessible version of ambient music, Bear’s adoption of acoustic sounds on his 2015 album “What For?” sparked a drive towards more traditional pop-textures and now the muse is dance music. “James Murphy is spinning at my house” sounds like prophecy and following the opening spotify-core dirge, tunes “Ordinary Pleasure” and “Laws of the Universe” sport beefy bass lines and punchy tempos to support even more vocal confidence.  

In the vein of Marie Davidson’s “Work It” lines like “maximize all the pleasure” and “you are your own boss,” poke fun at the form and its contemporary use to help rich people at equinox get their cardio on.  Subversive? Maybe not super militantly, but tongue in cheek, certainly. The slower tempos of “Miss Me” and “New House” take it back to Moi’s origins a bit, with mixed results. Abra’s delicate voice captures on the former, but the latter feels underwritten.  “Baby Drive it Down” sports the trendiest beat, but “Freelance” and “Who am I” again land some great vibes with enough shimmer to sound like classic Toro y Moi.

Admittedly, the Toro y Moi project has never felt extremely vital to me personally so those who thought “Causers of This”  or “Underneath the Pine” were some of the most earth-shaking things out there at release date will likely have stronger reactions to “Outer Peace.”  Whether fans will hear Bear getting comfortable or “reinventing himself,” I can’t tell you, but I will say that without wielding any jaw-dropping risks, the work remains rife with personality as the recording wizz continues to build his world and splash in some new colors.

-Donovan Burtan



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