There’s a petulant, defiant streak that runs through Mica Levi’s brilliantly chaotic music. It’s there in the abrasive nature of her sound and in her consistently monosyllabic approach to song titles and lyrics. It has come further to the fore on Never, the follow-up proper to 2008’s striking debut Jewellery.
That album felt like something of a collection – some of it composed and produced by Mica alone and some of it involving her wilfully angular band. Never is a more coherent and cohesive statement, albeit one where a plethora of ideas are often squeezed into just one mercilessly brief minute. The whole album is something of a mischievous romp. Micachu & The Shapes rip through 14 tracks in less than 40 minutes here, all with vibrant energy and a maniacal sense of humour.
Micachu’s music is far from easy listening – the individual sounds are often intentionally harsh and confrontational, and the overall sound quality is often intentionally thin. It’s a deceptively lo-fi world, however, as close listening certainly reveals Micachu’s background in composition and arrangement. For all the chaos and confusion, there’s a peculiarly systematic sense of order running through these compact, deliberately warped songs, even when the song in question is based around the sound of a vacuum cleaner.
Easy sets the tone, ushered in on a wave of clanging percussion and brilliantly engineered noise. It returns to that familiar, aforementioned Micachu vacuum cleaner sample, but it neither sounds tired nor like a gimmick. Instead, there’s a tremendous sense of ribald enjoyment and an admirable willingness to take risks. The title track is even better, Mica displaying her foundations in composition through the intricate lattice-like arrangement of her vocals. Waste is an onslaught of processed spoken voices and attacking noise but it comes with plenty of contrast in texture and volume. These three tracks all clock in at between the one and two minute mark, but all seem to contain a vast number of ingenious ideas.
Despite its brevity, Never is packed to bursting point with maverick brilliance. There’s the conversational stammer of the verse of Low Dogg that then yields to one of Mica’s most infectious and direct choruses. This is a form of pop music – just one that comes in a most unusual, individual and challenging presentation. The delirious Holiday sounds like a drunken fairground carousel. The introduction to Fall sounds like a random series of chords strung together with total commitment, confidence and authority.
Throughout, there are little glimmers of pop music’s rich history. There’s a little taste of quirky, wiry post-punk, or a hint of psychedelia or even, on the charming, relatively straightforward Nothing, some 1950s stylings. Yet all these ideas come filtered through Micachu & The Shapes’ incessant restlessness and their radical sense of humour. This frequently distorted, jumbled and confounding music is unlikely to appeal to those who prefer their pop music to sound safe and comforting. But for those with an adventurous sensibility, it will be a pure delight.