Toro Y Moi's Chaz Bundick steps away from his main project to try his hand at a plethora of European electronic styles on his first album as Les Sins.
Credit where it’s due: Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick isn’t satisfied to just keep churning out chillwave hits for the same indie crowd that swooned over his debut album Causers of This four years ago. He wants to evolve and create something different, remove himself from any pigeonhole he may feel he’s fallen into; that’s really what new project Les Sins is all about. For Bundick, Les Sins isn’t a safe retreat from his successful main project, nor an easy place to land; it’s a fresh start, something that’s open to interpretation, modifiable, and, more than anything, an experiment. Michael, Bundick’s first album under the new moniker, is by that measure not a consistent or single-minded record, but it is in a weird way a success for the artist. The album won’t compete with any of the Toro Y Moi releases — either in the future or right now — but in some abstract way, it seems like that was the goal.
Bundick’s working with a new set of tools on Michael. He’s pulling apart the lo-fi pop that made Toro Y Moi unique and re-configuring it into cold, simple arrangements where chopped samples provide the hooks. He avoids running in place on the album, instead sucking all the variety and flavor out of each individual composition before moving on. The producer tries on European chillout on “Bellow” and “Toy”; "Why" sparks from the technicolor disco revivalism of latter day French house acts like Daft Punk and Breakbot; “Minato” is channeled through deep bass and discordant trance synths seemingly directly inspired by the dark grooves of French producer Gesaffelstein. The album’s press release even notes that “Bundick imagines [Michael to be] the perfect music for the neon-lit, fast paced Ginza district in Tokyo.” It’s clear that Bundick doesn't know exactly where he wants to go with Les Sins, but it’s apparently far away from where he’s been for the last four years.
And yet for all that, Bundick doesn't seem committed. Michael is plagued by underachievement and half-written songs; for an artist testing the water of other styles, he sure isn't pushing himself. It doesn't help that his accomplishments with Les Sins are often held back by awkward compositional decisions. “Call” is one of the more thoroughly filled out arrangements, but the constant repeat of its vocal sample is enormously grating. This is a problem all throughout Michael, particularly with “Bother”, which centers itself around a vocal sample that Bundick seemingly tried to chop and flip in a way that might resemble a rapper’s flow, but the technique’s bland simplicity is revealingly lazy and more than a little obnoxious. Unfortunately, the experiments done through Les Sins seem to follow that standard: interesting concept, halfhearted execution.
It’s a mixed bag. Bundick is trying on a little bit of everything with Les Sins, perfecting nothing but never quite failing either. Michael is the result of an artist eager to expand his library of sounds but not quite sure where to start or how to go about it. It’s enchanting as a portrait of a skilled musician in a state of transition, and as a loose collection of brief, miscellaneous dance jams, it’s amusing to say the least, but as a new statement by an already well-established musician, it feels noticeably amateurish. The problem for Bundick is not that he tried to make something different with Les Sins, but instead that he couldn't focus the effort. Michael may stand as an important learning experience for the artist because of that, but for everyone else, it’s a curiosity.