In an interview with Pigeons & Planes, Chaz Bear said that he wanted Boo Boo to be more than just a “giant sad boy album”. Certainly, though written in the aftermath of a breakup, his fifth full-length studio record as Toro y Moi is more thematically complex than that. While there is plenty of moping and embittered kiss-offs to be found here, Bear also dedicates much of the album to processing artistic self-doubt and coping with the “identity crisis” brought on by his rise to indie prominence over the course of the 2010s.
Citing influences as disparate as Travis Scott, Daft Punk, and Oneohtrix Point Never, Boo Boo is pulled in many different directions. Bear’s style is eclectic by nature, however, and he manages to seamlessly assemble his influences and the thematic content within a frame of synthpop and smooth, often funky R&B. The hybridized touch of pop oracle Dev Hynes comes to mind, too, particularly on ambitious, retro pieces like “W.I.W.W.T.W”. The result is an engaging, immersive album that unfolds itself over repeated listens.
The first half of the record, in particular, has a suite-like feel to it. The spacious, bass-heavy “Mirage” kicks things off with an evocation of dread and anxiety, building over nearly two minutes before Bear’s verses begin. “Now I’m pacing too fast to speak,” he sings, setting a tone of tension that runs like a thread through the songs to come. “Pavement” finds him again adrift in nervousness, faint vocal murmurs punctuating an ominous keyboard clatter that sounds like something from the second half of David Bowie’s Low. More of a mood piece than a pop song, “Pavement” is most satisfying for how it gives way abruptly to the throbbing pulse of “Don’t Try”, where Bear’s doubtful rumination reaches its apex: “Give me no ideas, I just waste them.”
Compelling though these mood-driven numbers may be, Boo Boo‘s best cuts are concentrated in its second half. Brimming with nostalgia and heartache, “You and I” is a particularly poignant, sentimental moment, and by far the most gorgeous offering here. Over a gentle, melodic swell of synths and only the faintest hint of percussion in the second verse, Bear mourns the process of changing and falling out of love. “It’s so wild, everybody went and changed overnight,” he marvels, addressing the end of a relationship with both wonder and open-heartedness. If Bear’s lyrics can come across as somewhat caustic and diaristic elsewhere on the album, “You and I” is all the more notable for being so emotionally and artistically pointed.
In a somewhat different manner, “Labyrinth” also outshines most of its peers. Sporting a quirky synth-bass melody and a more playful vocal delivery — singing “You walk across the city with her”, Bear’s voice endearingly jumps into falsetto on the word “city” — the song manages to elevate the form of the brokenhearted kiss-off into something more singular and sublimated.
“You and I” and “Labyrinth” find Boo Boo at its most successful, and their placement toward the end of the album perhaps indicates that they represent a certain emotional closure. Songs like “Windows” and “Girl Like You” are more about the process of getting to that point, and all the bitterness and even pettiness that accrue along the way. Out of all the album’s influences, that of Travis Scott proves the more toxic here, however: on “Windows” and “Inside My Head” in particular, Bear drags otherwise interesting and well-considered arrangements into a mess of pop-rap auto-tune.
If several moments don’t quite do the subject matter justice, there is much on Boo Boo that does. “W.I.W.W.T.W.” concludes the album with a quasi-hidden track, “Be”, featuring a striking, reverb-laden vocal contribution from Company Records’ Madeline Kenney. As a manner of ending, “Be” brings the album’s emotional content into focus while simultaneously broadening it with the mysterious introduction of another perspective. When deploying sharp, emotionally astute moments such as these, Boo Boo is truly gratifying as a further entry in Toro y Moi’s well-established career.