For one to understand the song “Freelance,” a curious and thrilling disco proposition from Chaz Bear—the soul, sweat, and engine behind the recording outfit Toro y Moi—it’s best to think of it as a stack. The song is a sum assembled of intricate strata, a swirl of licorice keys and AutoTune with a heart of bell-bottomed funk. It’s a colorful, polylingual thing meant to feel at once retro and refreshingly avant-garde.
Applying a similar logic, the song is also elemental to a larger stack (in this case, Bear’s soon-to-be-released album): It’s not dissimilar to, say, a block of software or a Lego piece, something within an infrastructure tasked with an objective. “Freelance,” then, performs doubly, concurrently. It is a compound made of several parts and also one part of a greater whole.
A chameleon of downtempo cool, the song simultaneously figures perfectly into Bear’s endlessly-widening artistic project: He’s an architect of systems, a deft sculptor of textures, and with the just-issued “Freelance” he does just that—build, layer by layer, one piece on top of another piece on top of many more dazzling pieces. (The song’s release was accompanied by a video from Harry Israelson, who also worked on Toro y Moi’s “You and I” clip.) In form and function, he’s created a literal stack.
Following the wobbly, uncluttered expanse that was 2017’s Boo Boo—a soup of spacey, psychedelic synths animated by neon emotion—”Freelance” is intended to be a comment on “disposable culture” and “how it affects creativity,” Bear said in a statement. “While listening, you might pay attention or ignore, either way that’s OK, this is music for a creative mind.” Slyly angled this way, the song personifies the ambiguity of human connection: its desire, its loss, its weight and all-present ubiquity. “I can’t hear you, maybe you could change your tone,” he sings. “People tend to listen when they see your soul.” Later, he ends the song with: “Sometimes I think we are from the same place/ Now I don’t/ What just happened, happened, happened, happened, happened, happened?” Here, in its final breath, it’s about more than connection, too: a dive into the strange, dark gaps between contact and isolation. How do we bridge these chasms? Should one even try?
“Freelance” additionally marks the pending release of Toro y Moi’s seventh album, Outer Peace—what, in keeping with the stack metaphor, is the larger infrastructure. Set for January 2019, the LP will feature guest spots (building blocks, if you will) from Brooklyn indie faction Wet, Philly producer Instupendo, and alt-R&B singer ABRA.
Progeny of the millennium’s early chillwave shift—along with acts like Neon Indian and Memory Tapes—Toro y Moi has labored to define himself as more than the tidy categories he’s often cast into. He’s engineered a province that lives beyond sound. Conceptually it might be called something like “post-music,” but, really, what Bear has created are moods (one could argue that this is the stack’s final form, its ultimate goal). Moods to find relief in, to get lost in, to question and contemplate.
Typically, the stray components of Bear’s songs—be it the plinking, star-lit keys on “No Show” or the thick, damp bass of “Rose Quartz”—harmonize in deference to the whole. This is the brilliance of “Freelance”—the effect is not really collage or synthesis, or even mood-conjuring, though it does achieve that; the song’s beauty arises from the subversion of the singer-producer’s usual aim. Its light lives among the pieces, not the whole.