When shapeshifting artist Toro y Moi – solo project of South Carolina’s Chaz Bundick, also known as Chaz Bear – released his sixth studio album earlier this month, the record could have been here, there, or everywhere at once. The gregarious pioneer of contemporary sound, creator of experimental bedroom and now studio recordings illustrating the many shades of pop – house, R&B, funk, and pretty much everything in between – could have gone any number of directions with Outer Peace, and he pretty much did just that. Outer Peace is a sonic collage of all these elements, power-washed with inescapable phaser effects.
Bundick goes right for the jugular on the first track, with some bread-and-butter sticky-sweet pop. The song has a bouncy bass beat, dancehall upbeat percussions and smooth synths, along with some cliché and slightly irritating “oooooh” vocals. “Fading” has that quintessential contemporary pop sound, and with lyrics like “I can’t help but notice you, I can’t be away, one more night” bringing to mind laws of attraction, “Fading” should be a solid hit with the casual listener. Following “Fading” is “Ordinary Pleasure”, a dance floor filler which is arguably the best Outer Peace has to offer. With worldly percussion samples and a groovy, funky bassline that recalls the Rolling Stones’ classic 1978 hit “Miss You”, this song makes the best case for one to take up Bundick on his instruction to “maximise all the pleasure.”
Third track, “Laws of the Universe” is a neat anomaly of a funk song, sharing some sonic similarities to its predecessors, but is much less of a lyrically classic pop/funk/dance fusion and much more internalised. In style and content, the track sounds almost like Bundick delivering a spoken word slam in a sing-song voice, over a jazzy electronic tune. “James Murphy is spinning at my house,” he croons, in a nod to the 2005 LCD Soundsystem hit “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”.
“Miss Me” offers a feature from the fellow genre-blender ABRA, whose clean, passionate vocals float over what is a dark and melodramatic instrumental that even has a backtrack of forest sounds, which give the track an ‘urban jungle’ kind of feel. A heavy R&B beat and deep bass provide the weight on this track. Predictably a romancing song (“I can show you the world, I just open my arms”), “Miss Me” shifts the mood but does not offer much more than that.
“New House” begins with a phased-over piano roll that leads into a slow beat. Some somewhat muffled vocals, delivered in a matter-of-fact tone and sounding distant, open up the song with “I want a brand new house, something I cannot buy”. Bundick’s voice is drenched with auto-tune on this track and, though it jives with the digitised feel and genesis of Outer Peace, risks being a bit gratuitous. Still on the auto-tune trail, Bundick continues the sequence with the dance-oriented “Baby Drive It Down”, which, though somewhat catchy, is the prototypical dance floor number with a solid beat and anthemic hook, “Baby drive it down for me, let me know you’re gon’ do it”. If “Baby Drive It Down” was only intended to be a standard dance hit, it was a success – in that regard.
At a point in the album when the listener may begin to tune out at some lacklustre content, “Freelance” unloads. While still consistent with the record up to this point insofar as its beat is bouncy and maintains similar funk, pop, and dance motifs, “Freelance” has some of the unique content that could only ever be offered by Bundick – joining “Ordinary Pleasure” and “Laws Of The Universe” as being most owing to and representative of his individuality and artistry. Chock-full of zesty aphorisms like “I can’t hear you, maybe you should change your tone, people tend to listen when they see your soul,” it’s no wonder “Freelance” generated a buzz as a single release back in October 2018.
“Who Am I” is a futuristic track that opens with some laser-like effects, consistent with the tech-oriented theme of the album. Some very rich synths make this a sugary pop track with dance savvy, generating into a sort of swelling house tune. The song seems to comment on the experience of being misplaced by the music “now I don’t know who I am” and “who cares about the party, I came to see the band play.” Given Bundick’s own admissions regarding his concern with technology’s ability to efface an individual’s creativity, “Who Am I” begs to invite such an interpretation; it seems pretty provoking for an otherwise simple, catchy song.
The weightiest track since “Miss Me” is “Monte Carlo”, which has some deep bass and a slow beat, as well as atmospheric backing vocals that provide some lift, soaring over the track. The central lyric “pick me up in a 1997 Monte Carlo” sets the scene for a track that just seems to reminisce about “back then.”
The album closes with “50-50”, pulsing with an off-tune throbbing piano effect which, in conjunction with enhanced reverberation and echoing qualities, is totally characteristic of featured guest Instupendo’s dreamscape ambiance. Aside from this song’s trippy beat and overflowing airiness, there is not much to compel the listener.
Altogether, Outer Peace is a very professionally executed record by an artist who has a lot going for him. It has its peaks as well as its plateaus; there are moments of individuality and moments of banality. The record assures us still of Toro y Moi’s ability to shine, but there is no doubt some unnecessary excess.