21-year old Mica Levi, a.k.a. Micachu, presents "an ear-bashing of crazy paving beats, junk shop punk, electronic drones, and deceptively mellifluous bedsit pop" - The Times. Equally at home making brilliant leftfield pop as she is composing for orchestras and making mix tapes that mash up dub step, grime, garage, and pop, it comes as no surprise that Micachu's debut is the aural equivalent of a chameleon: a multi-colored, multi-layered conflation of ground breaking sounds and ideas.
Review by Heather Phares
It's not often that an album as equally bonkers and catchy as Jewellery comes along, but then, an artist as genre-defying as Micachu and her band the Shapes isn't a particularly frequent occurrence, either. Micachu, aka Mica Levi, is a classically trained composer and instrumentalist, but she revels in sounds that are anything but polite and restrained -- in fact, she goes out of her way to turn the most outlandish, seemingly "wrong" sounds into addictively, hyperactively catchy songs. For Jewellery, she teamed up with kindred spirit Matthew Herbert, and together they remind listeners how much more there can be to electronic pop than some lazy loops here and some copy-paste there. Songs like "Vulture" and "Sweetheart" burn through ideas at a whiplash pace, picking up one sound for a few beats before tossing it aside for something shinier, or more accurately, noisier: the album is filled with distortion, be it crisp or cloudy, but it's used artfully; Jewellery's energy may be reckless, but its sounds are "detailed," as on "Lips," which uses a kiss as a percussion fill (clearly, Micachu brought out Herbert's most playful side). "Detailed" doesn't mean delicate, though -- nearly every element on Jewellery is brash and bold, from Levi's witty tough girl vocals to the buzzing bass that bounces through the album, which nods to Levi's fondness for U.K. garage (and is made all the more interesting when it's paired with a riff that recalls the Champs' "Tequila" on "Calculator"). Levi and the Shapes even flirt with more widely accessible pop on "Golden Phone," the album's most straightforward song, and "Just in Case," the band's interpretation of Neptunes-style pop production. These songs are so swift and dense that it's easy to feel overwhelmed at first, and Micachu and her crew don't slow down the mischief until Jewellery is almost done. "Turn Me Well" is as close as she gets to a ballad; even though it starts with the sound of a vacuum cleaner, the tempo is slower and the lyrics ("I was told desire had a sell by date/Well, it's rotted and altered but still remains") are surprisingly thoughtful. A wild funhouse of an album, Jewellery is more challenging and idea packed (not to mention more fun) than a lot of self-proclaimed experimental music.
The first sound on Micachu and the Shapes' debut album is an acoustic guitar, so what else is new. But what Mica Levi is playing isn't a chord anyone's heard before-- it's a dry, gnashingly dissonant cluster, and she's hammering away at it very intentionally. A few seconds into "Vulture", she's joined by the other two members of the band, drummer Marc Pell and keyboardist Raisa Khan, who act as if Levi's actually just playing some kind of giddy surf riff. By the time the song skids to a halt, less than three minutes later, it's made a few hairpin turns into and back out of grime/carousel-music fusion while Levi's been chanting and whooping lyrics about her inedibility in a proud, largely indecipherable LDN accent. On a first listening, it's maddening noise; by the fourth or so, it's as catchy as a jingle.
Jewellery is a chaotic record, and an enormous mess. It's also, pretty much, the freshest thing to come along so far in 2009. Levi belongs to the generation that's grown up with the total availability of every kind of music ever, and she wants to play it all at the same time as she's text-messaging, so it's a good thing that pop plus anything equals pop. She's got highbrow compositional bonafides ("influences" listed on the band's MySpace page: "harry partch, and all those other guys"); she's got some U.K. hip-hop cred (her mixtape Filthy Friends is even more of a pileup); she's a little bit rock'n'roll (the fuse that ignites the album's best song, "Calculator", is the guitar riff from "Tequila"). "Sweetheart" is a high-tech, neon-butterfly take on the hardcore punk two-step. At least one song prominently features a vacuum cleaner. Nothing stays in place for more than a few seconds, but very often her avant-gardist and party-time impulses snap together, as when the scrape-and-tweak that opens "Lips" abruptly congeals into a wiry bhangra groove. It's not clear, though, how much the insanely clever arrangements are the band's and how much they're producer Matthew Herbert's.
At the center of this cyclone of jujubes and sandpaper is Levi's tart, snaggy voice, which occasionally recalls Lora Logic's dizzy trill but more often ducks down into the mix and clings to no more than a couple of notes. (It's probably perverse to wonder how awesome it would be if the group collaborated with a really good R&B singer.) Levi is one of the most androgynous-sounding woman vocalists I've heard in years-- pitch her down a percent or two and she could pass for Mike Skinner-- but her persona isn't quite post-sex: while most of her rare intelligible lyrics concern the romantic conundrum, they're generally brushing it off metaphorically ("I could eat your heart", she yodels) or literally ("I won't have sex 'cause of S.T.D.s").
Mostly, though, Jewellery is a vehicle to show off the band's hoard of shiny new sounds-- although they haven't yet figured out how to sort out the gemstones they've got in abundance from their ice chips and broken glass. It's not a record built for staying power, despite the thrilling moments in almost every song. But its failures mostly have to do with idea-overload and short attention span, which are very promising problems to have on one's first album. Levi and her band sound more like the future than the past, at a moment when we desperately need some more future, and as much as I've come to dig this album's awkward, brash cacophony, I want to hear what they do next even more.
— Douglas Wolk, April 15, 2009