Working under the name of Toro Y Moi, Californian Chaz Bundick has released three albums, each one progressively more dancefloor-friendly than the last. It began with 2010’s Causers Of This – one of the defining releases of the ‘chillwave’ movement; he followed that with 2011’s Underneath The Pine, which broke up its more psychedelic moments with a pair of undeniable floorfillers in the form of New Beat and Still Sound; 2013’s Anything In Return, meanwhile, embraced pounding drums and euphoric synths on tracks like Harm In Change and Say That.
Now comes Michael, the debut full-length by Les Sins, Bundick’s dance music project. It’s a mostly instrumental work: the only track that comes close to resembling a Toro Y Moi song (or, indeed, any song) is the slinky R&B headnodder Why, featuring vocals from Nate Salman.
That said, the prospect of a record that sounds like a more outgoing version of Toro Y Moi is an enticing one. The uptempo highlights of the Toro Y Moi albums have hinted at a rhythmical nous that should translate quite effectively to instrumental dance music. However, listeners hoping for a smooth, chillwave-meets-disco record that could play unobtrusively in the background of an Urban Outfitters branch are likely to be disappointed by Michael. This is an ornery record, full of jagged edges.
One would be hard-pressed to dance to the opening trio of tracks. Talk About begins with what seems to be a sample of a dippy-sounding British music journalist asking, “Talk about your newest record and, um, where did you get the name?”. Warping synths stretch over the ratatat of a snare drum, while a chopped-up hip-hop sample serves as the hook. Next, Past features atonal piano on top of a lurching beat and pitch-shifted voices. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the latest Aphex Twin album. Past segues into Toy, on which a flute melody creates a sinister atmosphere worthy of a horror movie soundtrack.
Elsewhere, Bellow, with its pillowy keyboards, comes closest to resembling a Toro Y Moi instrumental. Call and Drop, a brace of tracks near the album’s end, find Bundick dabbling in some more recognisable dance music tropes: the former features early Prodigy-style ‘rave’ effects, while the latter boasts drum-and-bass breakbeats. There are a couple of missteps: Bother – based around a sample of an aggrieved-sounding man saying, “Don’t bother me, I’m working” and little else – feels underdeveloped, while the P-Funk keyboard refrain of Sticky succeeds in being very annoying, very quickly.
Strictly speaking, Les Sins isn’t a Toro Y Moi side project, it’s a Chaz Bundick pseudonym: just like Toro Y Moi, Les Sins has a line-up of one. And yet, in many ways, Michael is the archetypal side-project album. For its maker, it’s a chance to cut loose under the banner of diminished expectations; for the listener, it’s a temporary distraction at best.