It seems like 2019 has been the blockbuster year of the rock so far (as would surely be evidenced by Sharon Van Etten’s new garb and look), so I was more than pleased to intake this new Toro y Moi effort, the work a beats producer out of Oakland.
Well, get this though: Chaz Bundick, also known as the man behind Toro y Moi, got started in music playing in “punk and indie bands” in the ’90s, then launching his current electronica moniker in 2001. Think he knows American alternative music inside and out, just a tad?
From the way it looks on Spotify, as his current incarnation this is his eighth album, a bouncy but not too cheesy session of dance-pop with a slight R&B tinge that definitely, at only 10 songs, left me wanting more. It’s sequenced as if to soundtrack a dance party, too, with the majority of side a energetic and owning to a consistent fluidity, and then a spurt on side b where one song bleeds into the next, like a DJ set (“Freelance”/”Who Am I”), that segue then followed by two slow jams to cap off the album that sort of reminded me of Kanye’s “Hold My Liquor” if it were an actual unpacking of emotion and not just a goof-off.
And look: “Who Am I,” especially in light of how Bundick started out in punk, is an interesting sort of thematic inquiry in itself. Bundick enlists some nondescript female vocal to take the lead here (some of these songs say the featured artist and some don’t) and within this bouncy, Cut Copy-likening session which absolutely assimilates itself with impeccability to the larger whole LP, the vocal asks “Who cares about the party? / I came to see the band play”, only then to go on and continually, naggingly quest “Kawasaki slow it down / This might be my brand new sound / Now I don’t know who I am”, except that within the song it’s sequenced in reverse, like a movie that travels back in time from some hipster wanting to see a “band” to a new devotee awed by Toro y Moi’s magic touch on the DJ knobs.
Musically, “Who Am I,” as I say, runs rather down the middle of the album, which depending on the track stretches from contemporary R&B (Ariana Grande, etc.), to a less cheesy and hippie-ish Cut Copy, to a pretty rewarding, slightly darker amalgamation of Twin Shadow and Yeasayer, roughly. Bundwick’s use of the bass synth might be his cornerstone trademark on this project, with “Freelance” belting out this wickedly funky beat, along with these kick drums that he somehow makes equally echo-y as they are gut-busting. Not surprisingly, this is in the dance-party portion of the LP.
I guess I’ve spent the majority of this review talking about side b: like I said the album left me fervently wanting more, so I’m sort of hung up on its latter portion. Anyway, along with the steady, reliable party tempo that saturates most of the album’s first four songs, “New House” to me is a standout for its ability to stick out as an arbiter of “dumb pop”: it just repeats this simple chorus until it becomes hypnotic (“I want a brand new house / Something I cannot buy / Something I can’t afford”), a plea which you then learn is set up as a fallacy, with Bundick’s ensuing remission that “I just want a long shower / I’ve been feelin’ so crowded”. Now, this is obviously one of those meta-perspectival instances of the artist commenting by way of art on the artist’s life, so again, credit him with, almost out of anger, making it just so DUMB that it can appeal to anybody and not trying to get too conceptual, letting his DJ chops do the talking elsewhere on Outer Peace. And with that funky bass synth and the stylish way this album has of bridging pop and soundman virtuosity, that they do.