Take a glance at social media right now, and everybody is sharing embarrassing old photos from a decade ago. A year defined by comically proportioned fringes, as we posed with bottles of Smirnoff Ice and puffed on soggy, poorly-rolled spliffs, 2009 was a huge year for chillwave, the dreamy bedroom pop genre coined by the blogosphere. The following year, Toro Y Moi’s debut album ‘Causers of This ‘ became synonymous with the sun-drenched sound – despite the fact that Chaz Bundick leans more towards icy hip-hop touchstones and tangled, studied layers of production than he does breezy, straight-up pop.
A sonic feast for the ears – albeit a haphazard one – his sixth album ‘Outer Peace’ pursues multiple themes and sounds. “I feel like I’ve seen it all / Or maybe I’m just old, maybe I’m just bored?” he deadpans on the wubbing, Thundercat-nodding ‘Ordinary Pleasure’. Accordingly, the record is a restless experiment. At his best, Bundick taps into slick Parisian house music as he dissects the creative churn and the pressure of paying the bills by making art (lead single Freelance’). Elsewhere, he enlists American singer ABRA for the dew-speckled stand-out ‘Miss Me’ and deftly hops through key hallmarks of the last decade. Name-dropping LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and channelling the slick shell of Metronomy’s ‘English Riviera’, this album is a kind of musical Time Machine, its author paying tribute to everything from French electronic label Ed Banger Records to jittering Bon Iver autotune. Sadly – though perhaps inevitably – the retro-fetishism soon becomes exhausting.
Because, we’ve seen from this week’s onslaught of dubious flip-phone photos, some things are best left in the past. Especially cloying is ‘50-50’, a fidgeting muddle of autotune that extinguishes the record in vague, unsatisfying style. When Bundick’s meticulous production clicks with the pop immediacy, which he’s perhaps lacked in the past, ‘Outer Peace’ shows glimmers of brilliance. The record’s constant dive through history often comes at the cost of consistency and a solid sonic identity, though, for the most part feeling more like a scrapbook of ideas in transition than the work of such an established act.