Chaz Bundick, better known in association with his main musical project Toro y Moi, has always been an experimental artist, combining R&B, disco, chillwave, electronic, house, soul, and indie rock influences. He has a few musical alter-egos, such as The Heist and The Accomplice, but Les Sins, his dance-themed, production-centric side project is the biggest contender to rival his more popular Toro y Moi. Les Sins’s debut album, “Michael,” is an energetic record that manages to be captivating while moving away from Toro y Moi’s lyrically driven style.
The beats are clearly the focus of this album, and they are done to perfection. They vary but are generally driven by synthesized instrumentals. Les Sins is a producer, not exactly a vocalist or a musician exactly, while as Toro y Moi, he filled all of these roles. The instrumentals on “Michael” are coherent but not overly repetitive. On “Bellow,” chiming and synth-y harmonies are woven into a common musical theme that is interpreted in different ways throughout the song. Bundick also pulls from a multitude of inspirations for these tracks. The upbeat and catchy “Call” embodies the dance- and house-inspired mission of the album. The track also has hip-hop influences that make it reminiscent of a rap instrumental, yet Bundick provides the complexity to make it a song on its own. The cinematic “Toy” is suspenseful and powerful, like the soundtrack accompanying a climactic film scene.
Bundick complements his beats with wisely-chosen sampling. The sources of these samples range from Nas tracks to jazz riffs. The album opens with a sample of a British interviewer saying, “Talk about your newest record”; this sets an interesting meta-music tone for the album, as if perhaps the whole album is the response to this demand. The rest of this track, “Talk About,” is dominated by a sample of a line from the iconic “One Love” by Nas, “Guess who got shot in the dome-piece? / Jerome’s niece.” While most of the samples are unrecognizable to the average listener, this one is familiar to many. Though this line is so known, Bundick has made it his own. Another great use of sampling is “Bother,” where Bundick samples his own voice. This is interesting because he has made it clear in interviews that unlike Toro y Moi, Les Sins isn’t about his vocals at all. However, his voice forms the base of “Bother,” layered over a clappy instrumental and background talking noises. He actually uses his voice as just another element in a beat. The way he mixes, repeats, and chops one spoken sentence makes it musical and even catchy.
“Why,” featuring Nate Salman, is structured fundamentally differently from the rest of the songs. It is a disco-influenced track that makes ample use of virtually unknown singer Nate Salman’s vocals. The only song on the album with radio potential, “Why” is definitely not an instrumental piece, which the other tracks all are to varying degrees. The vocals are skilled and impressively versatile, seemingly dominating this song, but Bundick’s production is not lost, layering Salman’s vocals in creative ways. Bundick told Noisey that his mission for this album was to “get people to recognize a good electronic track.” “Why” is his best chance to get those who typically aren’t into electronic music to appreciate it. However, it has so much mass appeal as to feel somewhat out of place on the album. It is a great song by itself, but its style feels radically different from the others.
On “Michael,” Bundick redefines his role in the music he makes, producing rather than singing or writing lyrics while remaining a lead figure in the creative process. He is adept at genre switching, and this album is true to its dance and electronic goal while remaining authentically his. Carving out an artistic vision can be hard when operating under different musical aliases, but Bundick has managed to keep Les Sins as a coherent and separate identity from Toro y Moi. By providing Bundick with a platform that focuses on production rather than lyrical elements, “Michael” explores the potential that producing can add to the accomplished musician’s arsenal.
POSTCARD: Stuck in the MiddleReturning on a Sunday night from a weekend trip to Switzerland, I got into my apartment building’s tiny, old-fashioned elevator and everything seemed to be going fine. Famous last words.
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