When your real name is Pop Levi, what else to do but rise to it? This London-born, sometime Liverpool-residing tenant of LA-la-land formed Super Numeri and played bass for Ladytron on his way to The Return To Form Black Magick Party. It’s unclear which part of his previous work was below par.
Originally signed to Ladytron lynchpin Danny Hunt’s Invicta HiFi label, Pop released a couple of singles before being snapped up by Ninja Tune, who loved him so much they set up his own imprint, Counter Records, with which to show him off. From the album cover of that label’s first release, Pop’s big eyes stare out from under a silky mop of blond locks, the face suggesting a pinch of John Lennon and a smidgen of Monty Python‘s Graham Chapman. He looks talented and interesting. So far so stylistic, but what about the music?
When a press release compares an artist to Marc Bolan, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and just about everyone else in music whose cool has stood the test of time from the ’70s to the noughties, the correct response is to suck teeth and fetch a truckload of salt. But Pop’s helium-tinged vocals, the record’s warm and full-sounding production (the work of Pop himself, with Devendra Banhart‘s knob-twiddler Thom Monahan), songs with enough hooks to run a fishing fleet and an otherworldly, all-consuming addictive quality that’s completely beyond the current vogue for dull guitar bands all point to a press release that has a point.
Sugar Assault Me Now opens the album as it means to go on, getting the Bolan comparisons in early (see also (A Style Called) Crying Chic). If ginger beer could be a song, this effervescent slice of psychedelic glam would be it. Hand claps, excitable drums and layers of delay pedals lashing about in the vocal tracks all envelop a song at once familiar yet once removed from overly so. And like much of what follows, it sounds like Pop had a damned fun time making it, evoking the spirits of the greats as he went along.
After the mildly frantic opening, the pace varies. There are slower tracks too, each one distinctive enough to be memorable as unique from the rest. Blue Honey is the obvious Hendrix comparison, but only in passing – there’s much more on display here. Any doubts about his originality are laid to rest by future single Pick-Me-Up-Uppercut, an insistent and ostensibly straightforward pop song that is, by its production, transformed into The Pipettes floating in a bubblegum balloon through the galaxy. Skip Ghetto is a change of pace and mood again with acoustic guitar and a vaguely hippyish feel, and in a record chock-full of highlights is one of the woozier of them. Flirting is another of the record’s quieter numbers, reminding of Lennon. Marvellously, he’s as effective at these numbers as he is at the uptempo stuff.
Just when you think Pop must be running low on whatever it is he takes to make this stuff, along comes Dollar Bill Rock, a three-chord wonder that runs across the dance floor, tells you T-Rex never died, grabs you by the hand and takes you hopscotching. Who needs illicit substances when this really rather tremendous stuff exists?
Mournin’ Light is a little more adventurous with rhythm, but in an exceptionally strong album it’s probably the weakest number. But no matter, for there are three more divine little ditties to follow, beginning with the spaced out, echo laden See My Lord. This could be the soundtrack to Lennon meeting yogis and floating about in a meditative ether of wonder and enlightenment. Happily he comes back to the place inhabited by us mortals sporting Hades’ Lady, the yogis shambling a drum beat somewhere off to his left. He stays in Lennon mode for the closing ballad, From The Day That You Were Born and wraps up a quite extraordinary debut with the panache with which he began it.
Pop Levi is an oddball, an eccentric in the finest English tradition and a man who evokes the effortless, timeless cool of many and varied heroes of modern music’s life and times. That he does all this on a debut without missing a beat must surely be enough to secure him wild fans, industry gongs and oodles of silver for his sassy charms. Planet Earth is better for this album’s existence. Buy it.