On the cover of Outer Peace, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Toro y Moi sits on an exercise ball in front of a glowing computer screen. Surrounded by different types of paraphernalia (read: keyboards and what appears to be a large glass of wine), Toro y Moi seems almost boxed in by all the various objects that help him make music, his gaze transfixed on the computer screen, backlit by muted tones of red, orange and yellow. Overall, the effect is distinctly otherworldly — a gauzy dreamscape that the album’s title seems to reference as well. Outer Peace provides the surreal terrain needed for Toro y Moi’s music to flourish. Saturated in bright, electronic-pop melodies and inflated with funk and R&B tunes, Toro y Moi has never sounded quite as carefree as he does now.
In the scheme of his entire discography, Toro y Moi seems to try on subgenres like different shirts. In 2010, his debut album Causers of This placed him firmly within the chillwave category, garnering comparisons to the hazy bedroom pop of Neon Indian or Tycho. 2011’s EP Freaking Out expanded past chillwave into a sound that could have emerged straight from the post-disco revival of the ‘80s. 2013 saw the release of Say That and Toro y Moi’s deep exploration of everything house music alongside the halting indiosynchries of J Dilla-inspired loops. From there, Toro y Moi continued to expand and traverse musical boundaries, collaborating with artists such as Nosaj Thing, Chromeo and Travis Scott, never staying in one place for too long. After Boo Boo’s release in 2017, he shifted again — initially moving from Portland to Oakland and then winding up in rural Sonoma County where he spent several weeks in solitude creating what would eventually become Outer Peace.
Even though every Toro y Moi project has upheld its promise to be vastly different than the one that came before it, Outer Peace contains the most drastic stylistic shift: gone are the wandering ambient contemplations, the at-times nebulous production, the lo-fi quality. Rather, Outer Peace emerges like a fresh breath of air — crisp, distinct, energetic in a way that many past projects were not. Powered by disco-driven melodies and held aloft by the perfect fusion of house and pop, the album beckons like a strobe light — a bright and beautiful break from reality neatly packaged in distinctive rhythms and clean production.
In an interview with Apple Music, Toro y Moi stated that Outer Peace mainly focuses on appraising labor within the 21st century. “It’s less of a love/heartbreak record,” he said. “It’s more of a you-can-do-it, motivational, life-is-hard-because-all-you-do-is-work record.” Indeed, there is a certain optimism to each track, a drive to keep moving and creating. The opening song “Fading” shimmers with a pulsating effervescence, glitching beats interspersing with soaring vocals. “Everything is fading, fading, fading / Guess I gotta have that faith in, faith in,” he says and there is a sense of continuation in spite of disillusionment, the pursuit of organic creativity in spite of superficiality. Its a theme that carries throughout the album, apparent in “Ordinary Pleasure”’s “Oh this world makes a lot of noise / Makes it hard to feel what I’m thinking,” in “New House”’s measured inquiry into societal expectations, in “Who I Am”’s electro-dance explosion of self-exploration.
The pinnacle of Outer Peace comes through its very first single “Freelance.” It’s here that everything Toro y Moi was working towards in this album comes through the clearest. The track’s polished funk pays homage to the spinning kaleidoscope of an underground discotheque while lagging programmed beats climb to obscurity underneath Toro y Moi’s monotone drawl. “Nothing’s ever worse than work unnoticed / Freelance now I guess you earned it,” he states, and the strained notes of futility within his proclamation are at odds with the song’s buoyant production. The boundary between work and life has never seemed as blurred as it does here, and overarching everything is a desire to escape. “Cloud hidden and my whereabouts unknown,” he says over an unceasing beat. Disenchantment has never sounded more appealing.