Review Summary: Inconsistently zen
External factors are beyond our control, a fact that I’m sure everyone has struggled to accept at some point in their lives. Recently, I met some rather bizarre American dude at a transvestite prostitute bar in Cambodia who had retired from the music industry since being in it from the 90’s. He had a lot to say – claiming to have worked for Death Row records with 2Pac sometimes sleeping at his place was a definite highlight – but, there was one thing that stuck with me: “You think you have it all planned out and damn, life throws a dog at you”. A lesson he had learned upon hitting a dog with his car, going on to dump it in a wheelchair at a people’s hospital before anyone saw. As questionable as this man’s behaviour was, he is right – no matter how in control of things you are internally, the outside wold will relentlessly try to have its say. It’s this troubling concept that chillwave OG, Toro y Moi, has explored on his new aptly-titled album, Outer Peace. But rather than moan and groan, Toro has taken the dogs in his life out for a leisurely stroll through pastures of euphoric synths, swirled in with dance music trickery and playful vocals.
For Toro, his frustrations stem far and wide. Some being fairly tame, like on “Monte Carlo” – a relatable tirade aimed at the stressful discomforts of public transport – and “Ordinary Pleasure”, where Toro aims his funky arsenal at our over-sexualised society. The clash of his softly cynical singing and the vibrant and rubbery instrumentation ensure top levels of infectiousness. At other points though, his issues take on a more serious and personal tone - although Toro makes this very hard to discern through the gloss. Like on opener “Fading”, which takes on Toro’s decaying satisfaction of, well, just about everything apparently. It all sounds a bit rough for the guy, but the thudding beat and luscious synth textures do sound rather jolly. The same goes for “Who I Am” which delves into Toro’s identity crisis dealt to him by the hands of fame. However, the bubbly techno beat and chipmunked vocals (similar to the boys in Brockhampton) sound more like a kids birthday party where Daft Punk are DJing; not quite the a soundtrack to a personal meltdown.
When it comes to all things music, Outer Peace really benefits from Toro’s current infatuation with dance music. Check “Freelance”, which starts up with disco guitars, a stamping beat and bursts of stuttered vocal edits that sound like a robot chucking up. The most sublime piece of nightclub worship comes on “Laws of the Universe” though, which at points seamlessly slides into a choppy but sweet Detroit house beat slapped up with rattling toms. For those kept up at night by awkward transitions, they will not trouble you here.
The huge downside with Outer Peace is that for all the sonic tinkering, new influences and fun lyrics, there are some tracks that really lack in either one or all of these departments. The skeletal production and lacking lyrics of “Miss Me” fail to deliver the atmosphere they promise. “Baby Drive it Down” is awful. The almost reggaeton beat ensures the combo of painful lyrics and misjudged autotune are more irritating than they intended to be. However, this track isn’t the only victim of abused vocal tweaks; “Monte Carlo” shares a similar fate as Toro drops adlibbed verses that feel like Migos if they went hipster. But, after repeated listens this comparison does become quite entertaining for me, especially when Toro spits: “That’s not push-to-start, that’s just turn and go”.
The mistakes Outer Peace make is enough to drag it down, considering it clocks in at only 30 minutes. A real shame, as the highlights on here are incredibly fun and quirky and contain some of the most original ideas Toro has had in a while. “Maybe I’m just old” laments Toro on “Ordinary Pleasure”. Sure the guy is only 31, but maybe the jagged inconsistency of Outer Peace could be indicative of early senility"