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.
Those worried that Levi’s time around the philharmonic would take away the rough edges need look no further than album opener “Easy”, where woodsy guitars stumble around, followed by what sounds like a silverware drawer being dumped onto the ground and a vacuum losing power. The sub-two-minute track works like a woozy punk jam, simple chords and repetitive lyrics charging the album. Similarly, the wafting counterpoint vocals and rapid percussion of tracks like “Waste” more than remind why the band’s lone recent North American tour date was opening for tUnE-yArDs.
While the opening tracks pop in and out with familiar bursts of cute oddity, later tracks stretch out, letting their strangeness get comfortable. “Low Dogg” wrangles its thrumming and popping electronics into a semblance of a hip-hop beat, Levi’s talk-singing suddenly recalling Mike Skinner. The violent lyrics (“Even when I turn my back / You twist my neck until I snap”) darken the already crunchy percussion and anxious energy.
Unfortunately, though, the closest Never gets to the pop glories of “Vulture” or “Golden Phone” from Jewellery is “Holiday”, a glitch-y take on surf pop. Other tracks, like the eerie, multi-part “Nothing”–in which Marc Pell’s ’60s pop croon describes a run-in with some dark force–show that Levi’s established unique textures, sounds, and vision aren’t being put to the same manic energy as before. Never is a bold step forward, but one that sacrifices the sugar-rush tweaking to solid if uninspiring ends.
Essential Tracks: “Easy”, “Low Dogg”