Album Review: Les Sins - Michael

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Don't be fooled by the inflatable tube dancer guy on the front cover – behind that hapless smile is a maniacal, beastly force waiting to be unleashed. Chaz Bundick continues to prove himself as one of the most capable, surprising, and provocative producers on the scene today. Last year, he dropped Anything In Return, a near-flawless LP that steered his Toro y Moi project off the rocks of niche R&B producer to full-fledged sex god. In the time since then, Chaz has toured mercilessly, and apparently, been continuing the production craft under his more club-driven moniker Les Sins with slightly more devious intentions. True, Bundick kicked Les Sins off way back in 2010 with "Lina", then followed that up with two great singles on Dan Snaith's Jiaolong label (the fantabulous "Fetch" and funkadelic "Grind", respectively, each with a great b-side). But with full-length debut Michael, Chaz has unleashed a monster of a record. Effortless doesn't even begin to describe this excellent piece of work – Chaz takes us on a forty minute night drive with his disc jockey alias that you will take again and again and again as the weather cools down. If Michael is any sign of what's to come, let's hope that Les Sins sticks around for a long time.

"Talk About" kicks Michael off with just the right kind of post-modern context it needs. As the chiller than chill house track drives forward, the samples dancing over top are worlds apart, starting with a journalist asking to "talk about your newest record" and "where do we begin", then following with a chopped account of two dudes getting shot. As can be expected with Les Sins, Bundick's angelic croon is absent from the tracks here, replaced by the moody swell of synthesizers and off kilter, jazzy piano. While Anything In Return may have further blurred the sonic lines between Bundick's many projects, the attitude is starkly different between Toro y Moi and Les Sins. Where Toro is a conscious wrestling of emotions, sometimes out in the daylight, but sometimes behind checked locks, Les Sins is a more carnal animal on Michael, brooding in the darkness and depths of the subconscious. Tracks like "Past" are all mental, as a raindrop collection of bass hits lays a soft floor for reversed piano samples and edgy whoops and hollers, all before the beat goes half-speed straight into "Toy" and the curdling energy cools into a soft glare. Chaz moves between sounds and emotions constantly on these tracks, letting the beat dictate the nightmarish landscape narrowly avoided around.

But then, Chaz flips it all around for a track like "Why", that is pure groove, baring it all on its sleeve. Granted, Bundick lends the vocals elsewhere, letting Nate Salman take the reigns and rip into this funk gem, almost as if consciously separating this track from the Toro y Moi atmosphere. Whatever his intentions, this track is pure magic and succeeds at whatever it chooses to accomplish.

At first glance, the follow up "Bother" might tempt another Toro comparison – maybe to the steady bass-driven cool of "Say That". But after the air dancer smiles fade (see the video above), this track is pure adrenaline, with a rapturous bass pound that nods to 2-step and garage with the slightest of nods, while maintaining Chaz's textbook jazz signature throughout. Then, of course, the bottom drops out at the end and it tempts you again with more sonic integration before the fade out. "Bother" may seem simple at first, but it's one of the smartest dance tracks of the year, and will grow on you with every listen.

"Minato" is another one of these Michael tracks that just refuses to be contained within one style or sound. The atmospheric intro dumps into a murky, wandering number before the drum track doubles up halfway through and the energy levels double. It's here where you realize Les Sins is the same Chaz we've always known. The chameleon producer has always had an ingenius way of incorporating a freakout collection of emotions into a contained four minute explosion. With Michael nothing has changed there.

With the B-side, Chaz opts for more direct forms of communication. "Bellow" finds its narrator conflicted, partially due to regret, partially due to concealment, and the emotion finds its way into the chilly track with ease. Bundick gives us one more opportunity to party with "Sticky", a funk-driven piece of lightness that gives the listener a much needed lift before the heaviness of the final quarter.

The twofer of "Call" and "Drop" is a frickin' bear. Here, we hear maybe the edgiest, nastiest thing that Chaz Bundick has ever given us, and frankly, all I want after it is more. "Call" seduces the listener with one minute of cool synth and snaps, letting the energy on the record cool to an all time low, before a chopped up vocal sample sounds like a warning siren that the reactor is about to blow. Then it's all downhill from there. Blistering synth leads stab at the air while a ground shaking bass wobbles over an excellent, dub-tinged drum break. A jazzy organ synth breaks the relentless energy only to offer up a shrug in the face of ultimate darkness before the break continues pummeling forward for another minute and a half. Then Chaz dumps us straight into "Drop", the shadow of "Call" that you wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. The disconcerting synthesizers continue and the drums go full break beat as Bundick's collection of vocal samples fill an endless void of cold space in between. Touching on the same classic break beat and garage nods that Four Tet waved at on Beautiful Rewind, Les Sins adds a new flavor to the mix that only Chaz Bundick could bring.

But of course, what Bundick record isn't going to end on at least a slightly hopeful note? With Michael closer "Do Right", all the nightmarish stress melts away into a wobbling R&B number that could melt your heart in the middle of a snow storm. In forty minutes flat, Chaz Bundick takes you to the ends of the earth and back again on Michael, and makes the Les Sins debut full-length one of the best LPs in the man's expansive catalogue. Your full album play counts will crawl into the double and triple digits without your even knowing it. Chaz Bundick continues to take us on the perfect trip, as Toro, as Les Sins, or by any other name.

Michael is out this week on Company, Chaz's own imprint on Carpark Records. Grab it on CD or vinyl at your local record store! Catch Chaz DJing as Les Sins at Q in Capitol Hill on 11/15! Tickets available here. It's going to be a time.

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