lessinsWide1Chillwave may not be a canonized genre of music, but Toro y Moi is definitely a canonized name in said genre — more like, his name has been engraved, by lightning, on the stone slab of said genre.

Since first appearing on the scene in 2008 and Causers of This (2010), Chaz Bundick (also known as Toro y Moi and Sides of Chaz) has been a prominent player in both the birth and rise of chillwave — a genre congruent to a dream-like time travel back to the synthpop ’80s — along with Washed Out and Neon Indian.

Now working under the new moniker of Les Sins, under which he performed on September 27 at Anna Head, Bundick seems to have shifted his effort and focus into producing more of an energetic sound, into dance.

Contrary to what a genre-jump may ideally entail, Bundick cannot seem to completely shed himself of his identity as Toro y Moi — whether this is deliberate or not. Rather than presenting Les Sins as an entity completely isolated from the bubbly slow-bob beats of Toro y Moi, Bundick presents his new project as more of a second cousin than a new persona. It can even be said that the formation of Les Sins had long been foreshadowed in Toro y Moi’s Anything in Return (2013) in which the effervescence of his previous albums had evaporated into more somber and mercurial beats supporting new themes pertaining to the ordeals of relationships and life in general with deep-house influenced riffs. This is not completely unlike the sounds that he has created for his Les Sins debut, Michael.

On one hand, Les Sins has a completely distinct ambience that has not been present before in Bundick’s work. The rapid repetitions of cryptic messages (“Two got, two got shot”) and the busy multitude of beat-building become disorienting yet galvanizing — which perhaps is the defining attribute of dance music. These two representative qualities can be heard especially in “Talk About” and “Bother,” where undulating rhythms reach almost sinister levels delivering bursts of energy continuously so that stillness becomes physically impossible. However, traces of a softer nucleus — remnants of the not-so-distant chillwave past — can be detected in these dynamic and harder-hitting tracks.

For example, mid-album “Minato” starts off with a lofty melody accompanied by whispering percussion, somewhat reminiscient of Bundick’s work in Causers of This. But in no time, these more delicate accents intensify into overwhelming bass and ominously building chants. This pattern takes form again in “Bellow,” where exploratory and inquisitive piano chords repeat themselves, much like Toro y Moi’s characteristic piano riffs. The only dissemblance may be the distorted voice sneakily warbling the same phrase over and over again on the Les Sins track.

Though Michael may exude past influences and try to reconcile them with elements of dance music, it is not to say that Bundick does not traverse into new territory. In some numbers, like “Sticky,” components of big band and funk can be recognized under contemporary electronic sounds. Likewise, “Past” incorporates chaotically repetitive ragtime-esque piano with auto-tuned prophetic speech to create an uncanny tune to move to.

Old traces and new components aside, if there is one thing that is to be missed on Michael, it is Bundwick’s voice. Granted, “Why” is carried by Nate Salman’s silky and effortless croons, but both Toro y Moi and Sides of Chaz featured his strangely cherubic tone which helped to elevate the airy and surreal quality of his previous projects. Perhaps Les Sins, a design meant for physical movements does better with just the looping of spoken words, but that does not make the unique flow of Bundick’s singing any less missed.

Miniscule lamentations aside, Michael is definitely a pioneering piece of Chaz Bundick that must be explored itself, whether one is a fan of his preceding activities or not.

The record is out on iTunes today and available for streaming on NPR First Listen. Les Sins is currently on tour, so catch him at 1015 Folsom along with Nosaj Thing November 13.

Article by Linda Choi

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