Born in South Carolina and currently living here in Berkeley, California, Chaz Bear, better known by the stage name Toro y Moi, released his sixth studio album Outer Peace on January 19, 2019. One of the spearheads of the up and coming microgenre known as chillwave, Bear has been making smooth relaxed songs for years, utilizing autotune and light yet creative beats to authenticate a unique and recognizable style. Outer Peace offers, in many ways, a summation of Bear’s work up to this point, with intricately layered lyrics, song structures, and vocals. Outer Peace is a casual yet nuanced listening experience.
The Berkeley based artist shows clearly with this album that he is not afraid to put his personal stamp on his music, which he claims to stem from his personal life, as well as inspiration from other bands and artists. Bear is not only a musician, but also a graphic designer, who has actually, on multiple occasions, claimed that music is more of a hobby to him than a job or the defining characteristic of his personality. He designs his own cover art, as well as many of his music videos, and is very adamant about his independence as an individual, explaining in an interview with Vice, “I am my own boss, and I have to do it [work, music, etc.] for myself.”
He also goes on to explain how this was the first album of his where he relied heavily on inspiration from other bands, specifically Animal Collective, an experimental pop band from Baltimore, Maryland. What the listener ends up hearing on the other side is an interesting collage of sorts, where Bear is able to express a lot of these different points of inspiration through every single song of the 10 track album, while including his own unique flair and style. From the first song “Fading,” we clearly see how this album works as a myriad of beats and melodic vocals as Bear creates layer upon layer of sound. It does get a little easy to forget to actually listen to the lyrics, which is the one criticism that I had after listening to the first song, and which stayed consistent throughout the album. Because Bear has so much going on within his soundscape, it does become easy to tune out any actual content or message he might be trying to get across, as the listener easily gets caught up in all the different directions his music can take them. For instance, in the song “Freelance,” Bear sings about struggles and frustrations of being independent and trying to succeed on one’s own with lyrics like, “Nothing’s ever worse than work unnoticed / Freelance now, yeah, I guess you earned it.” However, as a listener, I found myself more intrigued and fascinated by the unique vocals and catchy beat than I was by the lyrics and their message. Yet, at the end of the day, the album is so creative that it doesn’t rely on its lyrics to work, nor does it need to.
Bear’s connection to the Bay Area leads to some unique highlights for Berkeley residents. This is clear in the “Monte Carlo” Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) reference: “I can’t take the BART, makes me paranoid / So I take the car just to check my tunes,” and the “Freelance” reference to Cazadero Music Camp, which is frequently visited by many Berkeley High School students. It’s always cool to be able to actually say that you know what a singer is talking about in their music, and to be able to connect to the sound on a more personal note.
Overall the album works as a pleasant and cohesive unit, with an interesting sound that left me appreciative for the work coming from places that are so close to home, and eager to hear what comes next.