Release Date: Apr 7, 2009
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
The pop maverick, like a certain strain of eccentric, is something that Britain, above almost any other nation, excels at producing. Pop history is littered with a number of British musical rogues who used a singular mix of talent, charisma and ingenuity to stand head and shoulders above their peers as they blazed a trail for the many to follow. The likes of Bowie, Eno, Kate Bush and the Pet Shop Boys can all lay claim to the maverick title.
By day, Mica Levi is a 21-year-old composition student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By night, she is Micachu, a grime MC who plays a half-sized guitar and a standard-issue Hoover on stage with her band, the Shapes. Her debut album dismantles preconceptions about pop. With an unquenchable thirst for sounds and a gift for layering them, Micachu abandons structure in favour of seeing where her lithe, adventurous songs take her.
It's not often that an album as equally bonkers and catchy as Jewellery comes along, but then, an artist as genre-defying as Micachu and her band the Shapes isn't a particularly frequent occurrence, either. Micachu, aka Mica Levi, is a classically trained composer and instrumentalist, but she revels in sounds that are anything but polite and restrained -- in fact, she goes out of her way to turn the most outlandish, seemingly "wrong" sounds into addictively, hyperactively catchy songs. For Jewellery, she teamed up with kindred spirit Matthew Herbert, and together they remind listeners how much more there can be to electronic pop than some lazy loops here and some copy-paste there.
If there can be a musical space where grime, punk and freak-folk meet, then it’s in Jewellery, the debut album from Micachu & the Shapes. This is a band very much of its time, with little care for genre boundaries or backward referencing. Jewellery is a roughshod collection of 12 songs that sound like they’ve been bound together with sticky tape and cheap glue.
The first sound on Micachu and the Shapes' debut album is an acoustic guitar, so what else is new. But what Mica Levi is playing isn't a chord anyone's heard before-- it's a dry, gnashingly dissonant cluster, and she's hammering away at it very intentionally. A few seconds into "Vulture", she's joined by the other two members of the band, drummer Marc Pell and keyboardist Raisa Khan, who act as if Levi's actually just playing some kind of giddy surf riff.
Listening to Micahu & the Shapes’ debut album, Jewellery, is like watching a David Lynch movie. At first, the overwhelming weirdness—whether the listener finds that good or bad—precludes listening more analytically, and the whole experience seems crowded with random experimentation for its own sake. With a little patience, however, Jewellery soon orders itself and, much like Mulholland Drive, a cohesiveness emerges where chaos first reigned.
The 21-year-old Micachu, née Mica Levi, is not the typical 21st century scavenger. She’s not one to cop beats or flaunt cratedigger cred. No, when she plucks the proverbial spleen, it’s to bring her own ideas to life (Example A: this vacuum). It’s no surprise then that Matthew Herbert, the man who turned bodily functions into a critically acclaimed record, first shone the spotlight on Levi almost two years ago.