Music

'Outer Peace' Shows Toro y Moi's Expanding Musical Vision

Chaz Bear is back in the East Bay with fresh ideas and sounds.

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Toro y Moi drops Outer Peace next week. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JACK BOOL
  • Photo courtesy of Jack Bool
  • Toro y Moi drops Outer Peace next week.

Chaz Bear, the man who makes music as Toro y Moi, has returned home to Oakland after a year of soul searching in Portland. "A relationship broke up and I needed time to reassess things and see what's going on with me," Bear said. "I'm still passionate about music, but I needed to decide if I wanted to go fully into Toro. The band is now a full-time touring package and I want to make sure it's growing at a rate I can manage."

In Portland, Bear got grandfathered into a collective art space and made another album, Boo Boo. As always, he played all the instruments, created all the vocal tracks, and produced the music himself, but it was done in a protective communal environment. "I had a vision of a community of artists, painters, and other creatives and came back to Oakland to push that idea," he said. "I know there's an art and music community here without me, but I wanted to use the space I have wisely, not just as a recording studio, but a more communal area where painters, musicians, and other inspired people can gather and interact."

As he worked on creating an intentional community, Bear was putting together his new album, Outer Peace. Carpark Records will release it Jan. 18. "I wanted to do a more electronic, upbeat record," Bear said. "I've been playing sets as a DJ. Being in a club setting made me want to make tracks that would work well in a social situation. I wanted to see how big I could make the songs sound. I usually make songs that would sound good in your headphones, or while driving in a car. This time, I wanted to make something to connect with the club crowd."

To that end, Bear paid as much attention to the bass lines as he did to his sparkling keyboard textures. "The bass line is important, because it holds so much space in the music," he said. "I wanted to play with the sub frequencies and really get them to boom."

As is becoming the standard for Toro y Moi, the new record is quite the departure from past albums. Bear immediately found a following with his first Toro y Moi release, 2010's chillwave hit Causers of This, before moving more into experimental electronica, R&B, and, in 2015, guitar-based rock. Outer Peace blends Bear's wide-ranging interests with elements of jazz, funk, pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, disco and world music. There's also some psychedelic guitar shredding bobbing around in the mix.

"I was realizing a lot of music fans and listeners these days, young and old, listen to music of all sonic quality. They're not kids that only listen to low-fi sounds and vinyl. That made me think I could mix all kind of frequencies and qualities on one record and no one would care. That led me to make an album where the genre is not concise," Bear said. "I dropped a house track next to an R&B track, Reggaeton next to a ballad. I was thinking about the playlist culture that's populated with people who listen to streaming music. I made a mixtape, so to speak."

Although the album has its quiet moments, most of the songs on Outer Peace are upbeat yet peaceful in their own way. "The reference is inner peace," Bear explained. "I wanted to take that idea and turn it into an oxymoron. Peace is generally within us, so I wanted to explore the idea of outer peace. It's a reference to my own social anxiety. If you can't find peace in your head, because your head's too crazy, you go to your car, or go walk on a trail, or find yourself zoning out looking into a computer screen. A lot of songs on the album talk about technology and how it affects everyday life. Everyone is a bit scared of where it's going. I am too, but we have to embrace technology and where it's taking us."

Bear invited artists he's toured with, as well as Brijean Murphy, a member of his touring band, to add their talents to several tracks. ABRA, a confessional soul singer from Atlanta, contributed vocals and lyrics to "Miss Me," a slow, simmering song of seduction. Kelly Zutrau, lead singer of Wet, sang on "Monte Carlo" and co-wrote the music with Bear. Murphy multi-tracked congas and other hand percussion on "Ordinary Pleasure," a tune that combines a deep house beat with Latin and West African rhythms. There's also a Caribbean vibe running through "Baby Drive It Down" and a touch of reggae on "Freelance," a tune that brings The Specials to mind. Vocally, Bear complements the shifting genres with his own flexible vocals. "With each record, I pull out a different character from my unconscious mind," he said. "This time, I wanted a balance of multiple characters, so I brought out a crooner, an R&B person, a rapper — a good mix of what my vocal foundations rest on."

When he's not making albums or touring with his band, Bear enjoys putting together projects with a wide variety of artists. One of the most successful was Star Stuff, an album he made with The Mattson 2, twin brothers who play a stripped down style of jazz/rock. Last year, the album inched its way to the top of the Billboard jazz charts. Bear said he's hoping to launch another jazz project in the future. "Jazz is underneath all my music, no matter the genre. It's always subconsciously there. When I'm playing, my head tends to go towards left field and jazz has always gone against the grain." 

Jan. 14, 9 p.m., sold out, The New Parish, 1743 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, TheNewParish.com;

Jan. 15-16, 8 p.m., $60-$90, The Fillmore, 1805 Geary St., San Francisco, TheFillmore.com

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