Release Date: Jul 7, 2017
Record label: Carpark Records
When an artist is associated with a particular scene or sound, they often find themselves amongst a testing fork in the road. Either they stick to their signature style, and risk sounding all too repetitive, or they grow as a musician, putting themselves out there as a vulnerable newcomer, testing the waters of what sounds unique and what sounds awful. Back in 2012, Chaz Bear - AKA Toro Y Moi - was tossed into the scene of "chillwave" with Washed Out and Neon Indian.
Every Toro Y Moi album promises to be vastly different than what came before it, and Boo Boo is no different. "My baby got fed up with my ego/Wasn't even thinkin' we were goin' worldwide/Thinking it was better than the Southern life," Chaz Bear sings on "No Show," a line Drake somehow didn't get to first. Though Bear (fka Chaz Bundick) has always tried to keep a low profile both on and off record, Boo Boo is his first album that dares to feed a narrative: in a recent interview, he copped to the dissolution of a relationship he likened to "an acid trip," becoming more outspoken about his mixed race heritage, and getting freaked out by indie rock fame that only appears modest.
Willingly or not, 2011's Causers of This pushed Bear (fka Bundick) to the forefront of the so-called 'chillwave' era, whilst its follow up a year later Underneath the Pine dropped the hazy synth and samples for live instrumentation, blending funk with the pastoral, influenced by the jazzy soundtracks of 70's continental European films. 2013's Anything in Return blended the sounds of its predecessors into a smooth R&B and dance record, peppered with chilled psychedelic numbers and treated to flawless production. These latter sounds found their way into the fourth Toro Y Moi full-length What For?, though here they fully flourished into guitar rock with a hint of classicism à la Supertramp's Breakfast In America, with melody at the very forefront.
C haz Bear's down-tempo project abandons the almost-rock of last album What For? and replaces it with indie-R&B, reminiscent of his 2011 take on 1980s groove classic Saturday Love. When it works, it's easy to imagine Drake borrowing some of these muffled rhythms and muted pianos for his latest mixtape. Unfortunately, Bear can't rely on the strength of Drizzy's personality to lift the weaker songs and when he reaches for the Auto-Tune, it becomes difficult to engage with his distant vocals.
After releasing the poppiest, most guitar-oriented Toro y Moi album yet with 2013's What For?, the always musically restless Chaz Bundick changed directions again. After a side trip to record some prog jazz with the Mattson 2 on early 2017's Star Stuff album, some soul-searching, and a name change to Chaz Bear, Toro y Moi took a big detour from power pop back to something more rooted in the chillwave sound Bear helped make a thing. Released in 2017, Boo Boo is a schizophrenic album that swings between almost formless R&B meanderings and peppy electro-funk, with Bear using space and distance on the former to create chilly atmospheres.
How does a pioneer of chillwave—one of the most interesting, short-lived genre moments—remain relevant nearly eight years after its creation? A record like Toro y Moi’s Boo Boo is made. While artists like Washed Out and Neon Indian have tried to shed chillwave in their newer projects, none of them are as successful as Chaz Bear (née Bundick). With each Toro y Moi album, we discover new aspects about Bear as an artist—he’s able to maintain a characteristic sound without becoming formulaic.
Arriving out of a personality crisis and a sudden appreciation of space, Chaz Bundick's seventh Toro y Moi album is a record where its creator bestows as much importance on the silences as the melodic gestures that have become a staple feature of his music. Bundick's synth-driven songs always carried a downbeat, introspective quality filled with wistful recollections of a personal history that had slipped just out of reach, but, in a very deliberate way, the ideas on 'Boo Boo' are given greater much greater room in which to breathe and grow. Highlights like 'No Show', 'Don't Try' or 'Labyrinth' carry a sort of sentimentality and sensuality that ties these moments to a uniquely 1980s vision of R&B; music laced with languid bass motifs and achingly emotive, shiny melodies, over which Bundick delivers a soulfulness that has been largely hidden up to now.