Side projects by musicians are often hit-or-miss, musically exploring either too little or too much. Chaz Bundick is no stranger to this balance, since a majority of his recent musical activity stems from side projects.
Bundick most recently paired up with the psychedelic-jazz duo brothers, The Mattson 2, to release the album “Star Stuff” Friday under the group name Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2.
Although “Star Stuff” brings together two talented groups, the album ultimately falls short in revolutionizing a whole new sound, but it succeeds in genre-bending.
Bundick, who first burst onto the chillwave music scene during the early 2010s under the alias Toro y Moi, has a history of exploring different sounds. He has also performed electronic dance music under the name Les Sins and then delved into experimental music as Sides of Chaz. With his history from his past side projects of blurring the lines between genres, Bundick’s transition to a jazz-psychedelic rock genre on this latest album is a natural step in his musical development.
“Star Stuff” incorporates Bundick’s other-worldy and spacey sound in a retro and freeform style.
The Mattson 2 provide sounds rich in depth, giving Bundick the perfect base to layer and create increasingly complex tracks.
The whole album is an experiment in and of itself; the songs are rooted in synthesizers, fuzzy guitars and solid-sounding drums playing off one another over spacey, cosmic-inspired rhythms.
[Related: Album review: ‘Divide’]
Bundick and The Mattson 2 dart back and forth between solos and multi-layered sections of songs, making a listening experience that is as much an active act of discovery as it is a passive act of absorbing and processing the audio landscapes in the music.
The album opens with two instrumental tracks. The first song, “Sonmoi,” launches with a complex guitar riff reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix circa “Freedom.” The guitar shines as faint tambourines dart in and out of the background as embellishment.
In “A Search,” smooth guitar riffs flow alongside Bundick’s skillful background harmonies. Though the drums and the guitar are more even-keeled than in “Sonmoi,” the song as a whole has a lower-energy, laid back vibe. The song allows Bundick and The Mattson 2 to set the tone of “Star Stuff” as an album that embodies an improvisational and freeform sensibility.
The trio hit its stride by the third track, “JBS.” The six-minute song glides through cosmic textures and includes the first lyrics of the album with Bundick singing, “I think I’ve gone and lost my mind.”
The album is parsimonious with its lyrics: Only three out of the eight songs feature sung words, and the lyrics of two center on the experience of feeling lost and distant. With the complexity of their guitars and drums floating over retro-sounding synths, Bundick and The Mattson 2 present their lyrics of being lost as an opportunity for exploration as opposed to predestined failure. While seemingly trite on paper, the sparse lyrics are given more body when contrasted against the complex instruments.
Though Bundick and The Mattson 2’s talents play well with each other on some tracks – such as the call-and-response of the drums and keyboard of “A Search” – their sounds are more discordant and ill-fitting on others.
In “Steve Pink,” a steady drum rhythm plays against vibrating reverb-y guitar chords that attempts to evoke “Innerspeaker”-era Tame Impala.
[Related: Album review: ‘Heartworms’]
The track falls short, however, and feels both too muted and too busy, since the drums and guitar compete for attention. “Steve Pink” breaks the atmospheric and sentimental feel that the album had cultivated with earlier tracks, tangling the listener in a confused jumble of instrumentation without Bundick’s vocals to ground the track amid the guitar and drums.
Part of Bundick’s talent as a musician stems from his ability to explore genres as he goes from side-project to side-project. And he has hit a sweet spot with The Mattson 2.
Side projects offer spaces for musicians to explore and to collaborate their skills with others; they aren’t meant to create entirely new sounds, but instead to push the sounds they do know. In that sense, “Star Stuff” achieved all it set out to be.