[10 April 2009]
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 most obvious sonic reference point for Micachu & the Shapes is easily Xiu Xiu. This comparison is well-earned by the songs’ quick changes between chaotic orgies of metallic sounds, sudden acoustic instruments, bouncy synths, and distorted vocals. Fear not, the existential crises on Jewellery are much smaller than on Fabulous Muscles. Rather than sing about deformed penises and cremains beneath a workout bench, Micachu busies herself declaring “No, I won’t have sex because of STDs”, and “Grab your calculator / You’ll be needing that sooner or later.” Micachu, aka, Mica Levi, also adds an extra element that Jamie Stewart and company lack—she makes many of her own instruments, leaving listeners to identify sounds based on a vague referents.
The 21-year-old Micachu comes to this first album with a substantial musical biography already behind her. She plays the violin and viola and currently studies composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There, her composition skills garnered her enough attention for her to be asked to write an orchestral piece for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Taking in Jewellery, one can’t imagine its creator in such a refined setting but realizes her creativity could take her just about anywhere. The album opens with “Vulture”, which weaves a convincing synth melody between marching-band drums, fuzzy beats, and distorted vocals. On “Vulture”, as on most of the tracks, Micahu’s voice shares M.I.A.’s often-distorted British talk-singing. She intercuts that vocal style with grunts, cackles, falsetto lines verging on yodeling, and even snippets of retro girl-group crooning. Even “Sweetheart”, which clocks in at a mere 52 seconds, has a broad range of sounds. But the longest track on the album is only three and a half minutes, so Micachu has clearly triumphed at making ADD a valid compositional aesthetic.
“Curly Teeth” is a clear highlight. The martial drums and talk-singing are augmented with bleeps and beats that turn the song into a game of laser tag at a demolition site. This song is followed with “Golden Phone”, the most dance-friendly song on the album. There’s even a slinkiness to the groove (well, aside from when an inexplicable funereal organ fill that comes in) which gives the song a playful sexiness that even the random smashing noises in the background can’t erase. The following “Ship” is also dance-friendly, though its large amount of nonsense words make it sure to turn seduction into silliness.
If Micachu can sustain this range of experimentation, she is sure to end up creating a dazzling body of work. It’s hard to imagine her creating something that isn’t at least interesting, but it’s too early to know if her future efforts will rest on the same dirty beats, woodblock sounds, and sing-ranting that cut a swath through this album while bringing something both grimy and refreshingly new to indie rock.