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. He’s willing to experiment while staying true to the lush, synth-based funky pop many of us fell in love with on 2010’s Causers of This. Bear’s relevancy might also have to do with his prolificness. He’s released a new project nearly every year since his debut album. Many of those are side projects (Les Sins, Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, Sides of Chaz) and Toro y Moi mixtapes (Samantha, June 2009).
In Bear’s fifth studio album as Toro y Moi, Boo Boo, we learn more about him as a human being. The record is his most personal to date, and a significant departure from 2015’s guitar-based What For? He takes us through his relationship from its end and the pain it has left behind, to a resigned acceptance of his current situation. Throughout the record, Bear touches on themes of rejection, dying romance, and the perils of modern dating—“Mirage” is a dreamy, measured critique of playing it cool in relationships. The musician’s smooth delivery, backed with a groovy beat, airy production, and sexy chord progressions lend an almost ironic nonchalance to Bear’s concerns. He clearly cares about this person, singing softly, “I seek you out/but you don’t have the time/I just wanted to be with you.” “Don’t Try” features trance-like synths and resigned vocals, with verses sung in near-monotone, adding to the track’s desolation.
“No Show” is a sensual track that demonstrates Bear’s versatility and myriad points of reference—he shows that he’s comfortable making R&B or hip-hop just as much as synth-pop The song sounds as if it was written for The Weeknd, specifically, Abel Tesfaye’s voice, though the burbling, dark production screams Toro y Moi.
It might take you a couple of spins to fully appreciate Boo Boo. At times, it’s very slow-moving, and some of Bear’s experiments don’t land. The production on “Pavement” is minimalist and warbled, which fits in with the album’s aesthetic, but because the vocals are barely perceptible, it sounds more like a sketch than a fully fleshed-out track. “Embarcadero” is an instrumental track that’s pleasant enough to listen to, yet seems out of place with the rest of the album. “Labyrinth” is a beautiful, tender song tinged with pain, yet sometimes the liquid production eerily recalls the soundtrack to the water levels in Super Mario 64.
Don’t let the more experimental qualities keep you from listening to the record, though. There are plenty of great songs you’ll want to put on repeat. “Girl Like You,” Boo Boo’s lead single, is one of the album’s highlights. Providing appropriate nostalgia with spacey synths, but updated with a modern, warm beat and tasteful Auto-Tune, “Girl Like You” is a song that you can dance to while pining for your crush. Another highlight is closing track “W.I.W.W.T.W.” Though the record discusses Bear’s personal and romantic struggles, the closing track is a poignant, plaintive lament for the state of society. “What is wrong with this world/It’s got me thinking too much,” he sings, with sirens blaring in the background. While this might sound like a desire to return to the way things were before Trump’s America, this isn’t the case. Rather, Bear is commenting on the ever-increasing insanity of the post-truth world, a fitting ending for Boo Boo. B PLUS