Toro y Moi insists that the most important aspect of his newest album, Mahal, is an obscure eBay purchase he made after months of deliberation.
A Filipino public transportation vehicle.
“I have to say the jeepney is probably the coolest aspect,” Chaz Bear says over Zoom. His eyes light up immediately as he details the personal importance of the jeepney, smiling warmly as he recollected the experience from his home in the Bay Area. “It’s not the music, but again, it’s just such a wow factor. To me culturally, I’m just like I fantasized about this Jeep since I was 10 years old when my mom brought home a toy jeepney from the Philippines.”
The jeepney is ever-present throughout the project, gracing the cover of the record and making several appearances in music videos. Bear and Eric Andre filmed a short film companion piece titled Goes By So Fast that takes place in the jeepney. Even the sounds of the vehicle are incorporated as a musical motif on the record. A form of transportation, a way to spread music and share the love he has come to know through culture and community, the jeepney is the very heart of the project. Having this physical vessel into his Filipino culture allowed the album Mahal to come to life for Bear.
Bear continuously emphasized that this album is a project of love. Its title, Mahal, literally translates to “love” in Tagalog. While working on it, Bear wanted to reject the feeling that this was a product for consumption. Instead, he wanted to make an album that exemplifies his love for the communities that raised him. As seen through many of the visuals and sonic elements of this project, Bear’s Filipino roots are at the core of the love he feels. The warmth exuded offers a refreshing change of pace from any past futuristic chillwave-oriented work.
The “Postman” music video is chock full of references to the culture — tables adorned with bright blue bags of Boy Bawang, a honking multicolor jeepney brimming with smiling faces, and a balikbayan box is precariously thrown in the ocean. A goofy bassline playfully guides the track forward under a cool psychedelic rock groove. Bear can’t help but chuckle as he discusses harnessing the power of silliness for crafting this bass line.
“Well, it starts with that silly bass line,” he says. “I really was just in a fun place when I made that song. It started off with just the bass really. There’s something funny going on there. There’s some weird dissonance in the blues. And I’ve never really tapped on blues before. And I think that’s something I really wanted to bring out on this record —just some of my Southernness — and sort of be silly and not to take things too seriously.”
As Toro y Moi, Bear has crafted decisive chillwave and synth-funk tunes from his current home in the Bay Area.
“I felt like it was very serious, and it is a very deep recording of exploring and breaking a mold — but now I wanted to break another mold of like, just being loose and fun,” Bear says, explaining how his past work would differ from Mahal.
Hailing from South Carolina, Bear’s Southern roots also shine through as he imbues bluesy bass lines and atmospheric finishes to tracks such as “The Loop” and “Postman.” Bear’s focus seems heavily settled on home lately, whether that be the Bay Area, South Carolina, or a more metaphorical home he finds amongst musicians and people of his culture. His “pride and joy” is his art and record label, Company Studio (AKA Company Records) where he gets to work with emerging artists. Bear serves as both curator and producer of the label and his love for community and companionship act as a unifying theme for Mahal.
Based on the numerous collaborations on the album’s tracklist, it’s clear that Bear wanted this project to be one representative of a larger community. Highlighting the sounds of the Bay Area with artist appearances such as Salami Rose Joe Louis’s feature on “Magazine.”
“My approach these days is just to sort of build and focus on my local community, and not worry so much about getting this out worldwide,” Bear says.
Toro y Moi is not tied to a singular community, identity or genre. He finds his greatest strength at the intersection of himself. The warm blend of influences and communal inspiration has brought Bear to his most fluorescent period yet.