It’s rarely a good look for an artist to base a new project on the trials and tribulations of being famous. This goes doubly so for those whose fame is of a more modest quality than the stadium-filling pop stars of the world: there’s an unmistakable whiff of freshly-huffed Kool Aid, right before woe betide the well-heeled heart has the audience itching to go back to the bar for a few minutes.
Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bear (fka Bundick) avoids this pitfall thanks to a trio of unique circumstances and canny decisions – firstly, the fame he fell into is undeniably weird, to the point that a town he’s only lived in for a few years named a holiday after him despite the fact that most of its inhabitants probably don’t know or care who he is. Second, Boo Boo is much more of a break-up album than a treatise on fame, making it easier to relate to.
Finally, and crucially, it rarely lapses into out-and-out self pity – Bear’s voice is as confident as ever, and fits nicely with the instrumentation, an amalgamation of the various styles he’s tried on over the years, wisely sidestepping the guitar pop of 2015’s What For? and adding a sheen reminiscent of the best yacht-rock. Even when he’s describing his heartbreak, it’s performed like a diary entry revisited from enough of a distance for him to accept that life goes on and it was for the best.
This does not detract from the album’s introspection – the 808s and Heartbreak-like ‘Windows’ has Bear considering building a new attitude to fit reality while staring out a window ‘watching shadows touch the light’. It’s a clever, canny move – the majority of us will never know what it’s like to inhabit the world of the professional musician, but who hasn’t watched raindrops race against each other on glass while considering how their lives are going? It’s a more successful tactic than found on the otherwise pleasingly catchy ‘Mona Lisa’, which suffers from a situation that’s no fault of Bear’s (you try listening to this without thinking of The Lonely Island’s excoriation of ‘the original basic bitch’) and one less so (‘she’s the kind to lead you on’… I mean, really?).
The biggest change on Boo Boo is an inclination to slow down and space out – the strongest stretch on the album begins on the coda of ‘Mona Lisa’ to ‘Embarcadero’, where drums become reverb-soaked and bass takes over melody from synths – imagine a Michael McDonald retrospective with a less cloying voice and you’re nearly there. Despite a lapse into cliche here and there (e.g. ‘Girl Like You’), the second half of the album is a strong showing, finishing with a guest appearance from Madeline Kenney, simultaneously succumbing to the pull of the past and hoping an old flame doesn’t answer the phone. It’s a nice note to finish on – Bear may be going through some stuff, but he knows he doesn’t have to go it alone.