Review: ‘Outer Peace’ expresses youth disillusion through music

by Emma Guo | 4/19/19 2:00am

This past January, Toro y Moi (also known as Chaz Bear) released his sixth album, “Outer Peace.” Inspired by the electronic dance music of Daft Punk and Wally Badarou’s synthpop, “Outer Peace” is a breezy 10 tracks, spanning just over 30 minutes. As a whole, the album is very easy to listen to — the tracks are generally composed of low-fi, low energy, yet upbeat beats and melodies — and none of them are longer than four minutes. On the surface, Toro y Moi has produced a fun, and at times quirky, album full of hits that can be played at a wide range of events, whether it be at a party that’s about to hit its peak or at a study table that needs a pick-me-up. A deeper dive into the album with closer listening, though, reveals that Toro y Moi has also subtly inputted his own little touches of tongue-in-cheek ironic flair and his sense of pessimistic disillusionment to which millennials and Gen Zers can definitely relate.

“Outer Peace” starts off with tracks on the more energetic side. It opens with “Fading,” a song with a strong driving beat and an almost psychedelic feel, created by the echoing in the background that Toro y Moi uses to give the song a dissociative vibe. The rapidly-moving, trance-like beat is accompanied by simple lyrics in which he highlights that the world around him is fading, and he knows he has to have faith in something. The beat trails off at the end, suggesting that he hasn’t found anything in which to have faith, and, as he predicted, that his world is falling apart. “Fading” does a great job of setting the tone for the remainder of the album, as the catchy beat infused with the subtly pessimistic nature of its lyrics combine to allow the listener to enjoy its melodies while also relating to its lyrical content.

“Fading” is followed by “Ordinary Pleasure,” a super catchy, low-key dance song that makes your head bob along to the beat. “Ordinary Pleasure” sounds almost like a modern disco song, with a syncopated melody and a strong, slightly distorted bass. “Ordinary Pleasure” is a song that sounds like it would be best at a house-party-turned-dance-party — its tempo is slow enough so that everyone can dance to it, but also fast enough to sustain excitement and make sure no one will ever get bored of it.

“Ordinary Pleasure,” however, has yet another valuable hidden aspect to it. Through the layers of what can seem like vacuous catchiness lies a critical narrative about sex and hookup culture. Toro y Moi sings about his relationships and the role that sex plays in them, expressing his fears that sex will become another “ordinary pleasure” that will no longer be special. Toro y Moi connects this fear of sex becoming mundane to his age and relative sexual experience, singing, “Does sex even sell anymore? I feel like I’ve seen it all,” expressing his malaise that one day, sex will just involve him going through the motions.

Toro y Moi is arguably at his most disillusioned with “New House.” “New House” is a much more mellow track, with a slow driving beat and few overlapping melodies. In the background of the track, Toro y Moi chants “I want a brand-new house, something I cannot buy, something I can’t afford.” The tongue-in-cheek track is a reflection of the disillusioned youths living through their young adult obligations in the post-2008 recession era after the burst of the housing bubble. It’s a slow-moving yet catchy song, and the background chant is both ironic and applicable, as his lyrics reflect the real concerns of millennials and Gen Zers having to work within an unstable and still-recovering economic system for the past few years. 

My personal favorite song on the album is “Freelance.” The most notable part of the track is the chorus, during which Toro y Moi turns an autotuned line into a series of gags and grunts. The devolution of the melody into such a gag is both comical and fun to sing along to, not to mention reflective of the song itself. “Freelance” is a song about artists dabbling in different outlets of creativity and struggling to connect with each other.The gagging in the track perhaps represents Toro y Moi’s opinion of the freelance, gig-based economy that up-and-coming artists are engaged in — traveling from place to place in an attempt to gather a large fan base and sell their music. As he relreases his sixth album, maybe Toro y Moi is sick of the gig-based economy.

Ultimately, “Outer Peace” is an album catered to the youth. It has a wide range of moods, and its tracks have the power to accompany dance parties, study sessions and low-key hangouts with good friends. It is well-produced and well-written, not to mention easy to listen to and absorb. On top of that, the album is fun and self-aware, and the juxtaposition of the self-aware, borderline disillusioned lyrics with upbeat melodies and tempos makes it all the better. Some of the tracks on the album are forgettable and easy to gloss over when listening to the whole thing in one sitting, but the ones that stand out do so for a reason. Songs such as “Ordinary Pleasure,” “Freelance” and “Fading” belong on everyone’s spring playlists. They invite good times and good vibes — and who doesn’t need that this spring?