Album of the Month: Toro y Moi - MAHAL
Psychedelic music can take many shapes and forms; it’s less about a specific sound and more a mood, an attitude.
For Chaz Bear, the man behind the Toro y Moi moniker, making this kind of music has come in several shapes, most notably as a progenitor of the electronic music microgenre “chillwave” in the late 2000s. He’s moved on to other sounds since then, from honing in on synthpop, R&B moods, or straight up indie rock, but on his latest, "MAHAL," he’s settled into a '60s and '70s psych-funk zone, for a loose, jammy, warm sound world that’s the perfect place to start as summer takes hold.
The album’s set up like a broadcast experiment coming from your car radio, songs floating in and out from static and engine revs, tapes speeding up and slowing down, a smooth yet woozy trip to soundtrack a sunny day joyride, or just a plop on the couch with friends. Right out of the gate we’ve got swirling chorus keyboards and crunchy guitars on “The Medium,” with guest axe-wielder Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra joining the crew, before we slow things down with “Goes By So Fast,” a skeletal shuffle led by saxophone and Bear’s nimble basslines.
In slightly peppier numbers, we get P-Funk bounce on “Postman,” one of many tracks I should note that Bear plays every instrument, and the slinky “The Loop,” a song with a simple refrain of wanting to stay up to date on what’s happening wherever you go. Bear’s lyrics often operate in fragments, sometimes playfully opaque, and other times plainly evident, like in the lilting “Last Year,” a song I infer was made from the stopped time of 2020, taking a silver lining view of the forced inactivity with therapy session breakthroughs and learning to be more present. The production and stylistic flexibility on the album as a whole shows that Bear is a well-learned music lover and craftsman, with the mélange of acid-soaked grooves and little touches like interstitials and playful track treatments all coming together seamlessly under his deft yet relaxed hands.
Many acts born around the same time as Chaz Bear’s Toro y Moi project did not live long past the so called “Summer of Chillwave,” only a select few rising above the woozy, nostalgia-fueled fray to persevere and showcase their range beyond a flash in the pan moment. The ground Bear has covered since the late 2000s has been vast, all of it skillfully and tastefully done with a passion and ear for good sound that’s unmistakable.
On "MAHAL," he does it one more time, with a faithful yet progressive take on the psychedelic sounds that planted the seed to his beginnings, a delightfully funky collection of songs that’ll keep you dancing and bobbing along all summer long.
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