Toro y Moi

Boo Boo

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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. Tracks like "Embarcadero" and "Pavement" are static and frozen, sounding like Frank Ocean tracks that were stored in a freezer. Bear liberally borrows from subaquatic balladeers like Ocean and James Blake, then ups (downs?) the stakes by removing the emotions. It leaves the ballads on Boo Boo empty at the center, ponderous and not much fun to listen to. More successful are the songs that have some swagger and fun in the grooves, like the bobbing "Girl Like You" or the bubbling "Inside My Head," which has some seriously tough bass playing and one of Bear's best vocals. These tracks are indebted to Prince and Daft Punk, with all the lightness and joy that implies. The instrumentation is frothy and borderline cheesy, and Bear sounds like he's having a blast. Pity that more of the songs didn't have the same feel and sound. As it is, the two halves of the album don't mesh together well at all, and despite the occasional ballad that does have either a good arrangement ("W.I.W.W.T.W.") or melody ("No Show"), the strength of the lighter, more uptempo sounds serves to overshadow the rest. Knowing his history of never wanting to repeat himself, it would have been too much to ask for Bear to serve up a second volume of power pop brilliance, but with Boo Boo it does seem like he is repeating himself somewhat by delving back into chillwave tones and textures to diminishing returns. Despite the flares of inventive arranging and limber songwriting that flash from time to time, Boo Boo is the first Toro y Moi album that doesn't work overall, the first to feel like product instead of artistic expression.

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