Release Date: Jul 24, 2012
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Mica Levi’s 2009 debut ‘Jewellery’ was a gourmet dog’s dinner of pots-and-pans glitch-pop, an utter cacophony of greatness produced by Matthew Herbert. Since then she’s made a couple of mixtapes with Kwes under the obvious but excellent name Kwesachu, and a live album, ‘Chopped & Screwed’, with the London Sinfonietta, featuring a host of homemade instruments. But her return with The Shapes picks up where ‘Jewellery’ left off.
We've been here before, right down to the vacuum cleaner that briefly sucks up all the sound in the opening track, Easy. The hyperactive, argumentative twang and clatter and throb and scratch of detuned guitars and video-game synths and makeshift drums and hammering footsteps and broken glass and metal buttons that rattle around the inside of a washing machine: all of it is familiar from Micachu and the Shapes' debut album, Jewellery. But it's a mark of how far ahead of the genre-splicing, pop-distorting game Mica Levi was in 2009, that no matter how much this follow-up apparently repeats previous ideas, it still sounds vital and fresh.
When Micachu and the Shapes arrived, back in, hell, I dunno… some time a few years back when everything felt better, they did so in a wave of promise and possibility. Mica Levi was quietly hailed as a gentle heroine, with homemade instruments and a ramshackle approach to her craft. ‘All hail Michachu’ they said ‘all hail Micachu, with her wayward ideas and her sideways look at life!’ and we did and then… nothing.
At this point, "experimental pop music" is hardly novel. The ongoing marriage of accessible songwriting and capital-A Artistry may very well be both a cause and a symptom of that which was once called indie rock's growing popularity. On a purely aesthetic level, Micachu and the Shapes could stand among this generation's most lauded arty pop purveyors.
Most of what you'll read about Mica Levi is an attack on your self esteem. In 2008, she wrote an orchestral piece that was performed by London's Philharmonic Orchestra; and at 25 years old, she is currently the youngest musician to ever be an artist-in-residence at London's Southbank Centre. She also makes her own instruments, and has used them to record two albums of short, spunky pop songs with her band, Micachu and the Shapes.
Time hasn’t mellowed out or settled down Mica Levi, the mischievous experimentalist behind Micachu and the Shapes. Like the engaging, out-of-left-field debut Jewellery, Micachu’s latest, Never, channels Levi’s restless creative impulses, as it bursts at the seams with snippet-length songs that are overstuffed with off-the-wall hooks and oddball arrangements. If anything, the three-plus years between Jewellery and Never may have just revved up Levi’s overactive imagination; in the interim, the classically trained avant-pop prodigy has been collaborating with a wide range of cutting-edge artists on diverse projects, from a live recording with the chamber orchestra London Sinfonietta to making mixtapes with DJ/producer-type Kwes.
Mica Levi exploded onto the scene with her band Micachu & the Shapes’ wonderfully inventive, twitchy 2009 debut, Jewellery, which made punk indie pop played on toy guitars and vacuums seem like an obvious choice. The British weirdo-pop wunderkind quickly transitioned to recording live with the London Sinfonietta Orchestra (2011’s Chopped & Screwed) and becoming the youngest individual musician to become an artist in residence with the Southbank Centre. Now, Levi is finally getting around to The Shapes’ second album, Never, which matures while retaining that rambunctious inventiveness.
Mica Levi’s 2009 debut was a beautiful, clambering mess of tenderly damaged art-pop. Her fractured vocabulary of sounds (from wheezing vacuums to savaged guitars) drew itself into one of the most unexpectedly coherent post-pop statements of the year. Understandably, “Jewellery” was hit-challenged; keeping a Micachu song in your head can be like holding a handful of bees.
"For years pop and rock thrived on a kind of energy and madness that predicted the sights and sounds of the future,” chuckles Paul Morley as he slips into fourth gear. He's been stuck in his cyber-car with his road buddy, Kylie Minogue, since 2005 as they whiz around the sights and sounds of a music-mapped city. They've been hurtling through the neon-lit streets of pop music's past for yonks: a turn-off to the 'Autobahn' on their left; a pileup behind them, caused by David Bowie crashing his ruddy car again; after the next roundabout, an exit to a Little Chef owned by Gary Numan.
Micachu & the Shapes burst onto the scene in 2009 with Jewellery, which fashioned forward-thinking pop from junk-shop sounds, homemade instruments and, above all, a keen sense of mischief. That mischievous streak is as strong as ever on Never, an album whose point-blank title hints at how uncompromising its contents are. Mica Levi and company deliver songs that feel more like contraptions built on Rube Goldberg-esque arrangements where each part is wackier than the next, and sound like they were cobbled together in a workshop rather than recorded in a studio.
Hits like a spring-mounted boxing glove to your peripheral vision. Alex Denney 2012 “Love’s all around, yeah, but I don’t want none / Give me that nonsense sound and I’ll be back,” sang Mica Levi on her debut with The Shapes back in 2009, marking the arrival of an absurdist talent. Her confounding otherness shows no signs of abating on this second LP.
PASSION PIT “Gossamer” (Columbia). Shiny, happy sounds define the music of Passion Pit. On “Manners,” its debut full-length album, released in 2010, synthesizers shimmered and pealed with lustrous timbres, while dance beats pulsed with tireless programmed jubilation behind Michael ….