Does melancholy always make for interesting music? It definitely should. The sound of transition, crisis or self-doubt is endlessly captivating and relatable to boot. And luckily for us, it seems as though Chaz Bundick has gone through such a transition on his latest record as Toro y Moi, referentially named Boo Boo.
There is, mostly, a summery playfulness to Bundick’s music, perhaps best captured on the effervescent Underneath The Pine and the record preceding Boo Boo, the sugary, prog pop tinged What For? Even Causers of This, despite a generally “blue” tone brought on by shiny, metallic house music influenced experimentation, was steeped in optimism and reverence.
Why does Boo Boo feel like a middling entry in a sterling body of work then?
It’s important, at this point, to quickly say that Boo Boo is in no way a complete let down. No sir. There is a lot to love here; Mirage is a banger, opening with euphoric, bubbly electronic instrumentation that evokes the feeling of tripping over and unintentionally falling into a mysterious, 80’s club mecca.
Similarly, No Show and Mona Lisa employ related techniques; the former induces scrunch-faced head bobbing anchored by warm, echoing synth bass leading crashing, reverberating drums around Bundick’s effortless, lightly double-tracked vocals cruising over the top. The latter turns down the reverb a notch, but with its intriguing motorik-like beat that laughs in the face of snare drum placement, bobs and glides with a layered, pulsing production that reveals tender, flickering intricacies from the synth and vocals that reward closer, repeated listening.
The thing is though, Bundick is a well-documented genre bender, as is everyone these days, to some extent; through a certain vocal catchiness, a lashing of multi-instrumentalism and an evidently eclectic taste, timelessness and melody remain trump cards in his deck. He has a way of constructing tunes that, while at times easy to place in terms of derivativeness, actually feel like creatures entirely of his own construction. Be that through a deft amalgamation of old and new components, or having an ever present ear to music’s constant reinvention, he just has a certain elegance in turning his “jam” approach into distilled, catchy song craft.
Boo Boo doesn’t reflect its noted influences entirely (Bundick cites Travis Scott and Frank Ocean), but gently whispers to a reverence of them, and when it works, it really works. Girl Like You and You And I, as the most powerful moments on the album, speak to how well Bundick has cooked up his influences with his own individuality and made some really banging music that deals with his own identity crisis, the breakdown of a relationship, the inevitable mourning period and the ability to move on and keep going.
It’s a shame, then, that the rest of it, despite the power of the aforementioned tunes, is just a bit lacking. There are moments throughout most of the middle point of the album, wherein it seems as though Bundick failed to remember what it was that made his music so strong in the first place; on Boo Boo, he tends to throw in a little too much of one thing and forgets to balance the music, which will probably be somewhat odd to hear from devoted TyM fans at times, especially when a concerted effort has been made to keep the music somewhat spacious. And let’s be real, there are moments where his vocal delivery bombs (I’m looking at you, Don’t Try). Unfortunately, these moments occur, to varying degrees, on a fair few of the tracks on show here. Again, it’s not all bad, just a bit up and down.
You can’t expect consistency from every artist and every song under the sun, of course. Bundick just seemed to have a way of owning his inconsistencies on earlier work and his amalgamations of different stylings always felt like they were done in a way that was quintessentially him. Change is good and necessary but forcing it in the midst of an identity crisis could surely have mixed results. Boo Boo isn’t a total poster boy for this idea, as the majority of it is very cool, but if Bundick forgets to listen to himself more than anything else, the next record could well be. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.