Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear parties with Diddy, but he's just as likely to be spotted at neighborhood cafes in Berkeley and Oakland.
But on Boo Boo, his fifth and best album, the South Carolina native is lonely.
“My baby got fed up with my ego,” he croons in “No Show,” a keenly-crafted electropop track that's all wistful keys and pulsing tones that clang like guilt manifest. Boo Boo, which was recorded months before his breakup, finds Bear assessing the emotional aftermath of a relationship already on the outs. It's his most intimate release to date.
“You say there’s a missing piece / Are you searching for both of us?” Bear sighs on “Labyrinth” over a chain of plodding bass lines and swooning electronic washes that never really seem to interlock. “Windows,” which sounds like a hollowed-out version of one of Drake's dancehall experiments, is overlaid with the same shade of melancholy blue that washes his album cover.
But it’s not all bleak: “Inside My Head” -- which has an '80s dance vibe reminiscent of Blood Orange’s kiss-off “You’re Not Good Enough” -- is an ode to solitude. “Girl Like You” is as close to a pure pop hit that Bear has crafted, its wistful hook (“What’s it gonna take for a guy like me to find a girl like you?”) as sweetly sung as anything by Miguel or the One Direction boys. There’s also “Mirage,” Boo Boo’s squiggly funk opener, which burbles and grooves like an unvarnished outtake from his 2013 album Anything in Return.
But, crucially, Boo Boo is not a breakup album, but an ode to the Bay Area community where his baby resided, where the mayor commemorated him with a day in his honor, and, really, where his distinctive voice emerged.
All throughout Boo Boo, drums and synths knock with the sound of an imagined '80s, but they just as often shift into the old-school hip-hop and R&B architecture that inspired Kamaiyah’s A Good Night in the Ghetto. Toro y Moi unifies the distinct sonic aesthetics he found in the Bay Area into an adventurous bricolage of sound that appeals just as easily to hip-hop heads as it does to the KALX rock set.
Chaz Bear mourns a love lost on Boo Boo, but more than anything else, the album serves as a portrait of him embracing a home that has fully embraced him back.
We'll be posting our top ten local albums of 2017 everyday through Dec. 22. Check back here to see which other albums made our list.