“Headed back to the Bay
People say it’s crazy now
Honestly it feels the same”
To experience something entirely new is to find old places once inhabited rather monotonous. Going “home” becomes an exercise in effectively reverting to an old self. People will speak excitedly about the new freeway entrance or the upgraded chicken joint, but honestly, everything feels the same. To Chaz Bear, fame has rendered his East Bay home stale. The last decade – in which he’s released seven albums and an EP under his professional name, Toro y Moi – has been a whirlwind. He “wasn’t even thinking (he) was going worldwide,” but now he has, and it’s difficult to return to the people and places he loves.
In his latest album, Boo Boo, Toro y Moi suddenly realizes how much he’s changed, but he can’t stop himself from evolving further. Even as his lyrics lament lost relationships and wasted opportunities, the music becomes more experimental.
Boo Boo was created amid an identity shift. A harrowing car crash, a break-up, a move to Portland, and an official name change from Chaz Bundick to Chaz Bear all led to a darker, more introspective album than what Toro y Moi fans have come to expect. In several interviews, he’s stressed the importance of influences such as Travis Scott, Frank Ocean, and Daft Punk – a stark pivot from the indie chillwave of his early work, and the uplifting folk/funk of his last album, “What For?”
All the change is crazy for Toro y Moi, but it’s his nature to innovate. It would be foolish to believe that a pioneer of chillwave and a prominent voice in electronic folk would suddenly start releasing comfortably similar tunes.
With “No Show,” the album’s final song, Toro y Moi throws us a bone by apologizing for his constant alterations before warning us that more change will come. He’s aware that his latest developments have affected his ex-partner (“My baby got fed up with my ego”), and his ability to hold any relationships at all (“I’m such a no show – why?”), and he even acknowledges that he needs to ground himself. He sings, “I need to touch the ground/I need to hit the town,” and I almost believe him. But there’s just too much evidence that Toro y Moi won’t spend some time grounding himself, and getting back to his roots. Instead, a year or two from now, he’ll present something entirely new and wonderful. And as much as I love this moment, I’ll thank him for changing once again.
On July 28th, Cage The Elephant will release their unpeeled album. To preview the twenty-one song, acoustic collection, they’ve released stripped-down versions of “Whole Wide World” and “Sweetie Little Jean.” The album was recorded with a string quartet and extra percussion during a series of live shows. It promises to provide rawer takes on eighteen Cage The Elephant tracks, plus three covers. If the previews are any indication, it will be incredible.
Cage The Elephant is the most consistently great rock band of the last ten years precisely because of their earnestness. Matt Shultz can infuse passion, anger, and heartbreak into his voice like no one else. “Cigarette Daydreams” already makes me cry with almost every listen. I’m a little afraid of what a string version will do to me, especially after how “Sweetie Little Jean – Unpeeled” made me feel.
“Sweetie Little Jean” was meant to be “unpeeled.” The song is devastating. Shultz sings about a girl who has left him, which makes him feel like she has disappeared entirely. “The whole world’s watching candlelight vigils being held in silence on the channel four.”
The devastation, desperation, and hopelessness are even more powerful in the unpeeled version. Shultz’s voice is much more prominent, and almost menacing, like he might hurt himself or Little Jean if they ever find her. He added an element of spook to an already eerie song.
Cage The Elephant’s upcoming album is no gimmick. Any band can record themselves live to sell some copies, but it takes special talent to alter the meaning of a song by shuffling around instruments and sonic sounds. “Sweetie Little Jean – Unpeeled” proves Cage The Elephant can do just that.
In French Montana’s words, “here’s a little story ‘bout a kid from Morocco” who made it big, and is living the life. By sampling Organized Konfusion’s “Stress,” Montana and Pharrell give the song a ‘90s vibe, and then do what they do best: speak about success through relaxed, smooth rap. Pharrell reminisces past business ventures and considers buying the new LaFerrari Coupe while Montana tells the tale of his rise to rap prominence. Primarily, it’s another fun song in the middle of Montana’s new album, Jungle Rules, which he obviously had a great time making.
Happy Sunday, everyone!