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Micachu & The Shapes: Good Sad Happy Bad - review

Micachu & The Shapes: Good Sad Happy Bad - review

There she is, beaming an orthodontically challenged gap-toothed smile from the cover of English “adventurous music” magazine The Wire. A surprising number of column inches have been devoted to Mica Levi, the 27-year-old leader of occasional “pop project” Micachu & The Shapes and an unlikely poster girl for a genre-transgressive scene that defies commercial prerogatives.

It’s impossible to get a fix on Levi, who is classically trained but made her name producing gnarly hip-hop-influenced mix tapes. She’s had her compositions performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and won awards for her creepy soundtrack to the 2014 sci-fi movie Under the Skin, and Micachu & The Shapes, her group, are renowned for their waywardly unconventional pop using unusual guitar tunings, modified instruments and random sonic elements.

While their 2009 debut album, Jewellery, was an engaging riot of punky electronic fun, and the 2012 album Never was a glaring hash of manipulated samples and studied oddness, the third release, Good Sad Happy Bad, actually sounds like a message in a bottle from a deviant culture stuck in a parallel dimension.

There’s a playful and somewhat mischievous personality to these 13 short pieces that’s compounded by the unsettling technique of manipulating the vocals to sound disturbingly unisexual.

Good Sad Happy Bad’s base is a loose rehearsal drum session, to which odd sounds and vocals have been cut and pasted. It’s a bit like hearing a gaggle of Gremlins tear it up in some dank post-punk warehouse basement, echoing as it does the creepy, hermetically sealed world of San Franciscan weirdos The Residents, without merely apeing them.

Super-modified but always somehow raw, this post-postmodern recording utilises deconstructivist dub techniques to maintain an effective minimalism, and is a defiant two-fingered salute to the reigning (and some would say crippling) notions of what makes music palatable: the smoothed-down conventions in every genre that tether us to the same old paradigm of what we get is what we want, what we want is what we get.

There’s something comforting in knowing there’s a place for this rebellion in pop culture, even if we are well past the era when experimentation could infiltrate the mass mind. And it’s encouraging that artists like Mica Levi still take pop seriously enough to figure it worthy of twisting its narrative, and conventions, all asunder.

Music