A strange, affecting solo debut...

It feels hard to believe in 2020 that Mica Levi has only just released her debut solo album. When I saw the story breaking, I went and looked through my records, hard drive and Discogs, to see if what I was reading was true. Remarkably it was. ‘Ruff Dog’ is Levi’s debut solo release.

Everything you need to know about the album is laid out in the opening two tracks. ‘Ruff Dog’ is a 30-second instrumental of an eerie dog howling. Think the Hound of the Baskervilles played by a Corgi and you’re on the right track. This is followed by ‘Kind of Strange’. Opening with a barrage of feedback and distorted vocals it sounds like everything and nothing Levi has released to date. It’s claustrophobic yet caring. Wading through the sonic fug it sounds there are drums, guitars, electric and acoustic, and vocals all coated with an obsidian syrup. It gets everywhere and it hard make out what is underneath it.

‘Kind Of Strange’ has a murky charm to it and is reminiscent of Beck’s early lo- fi troubadour work. And like those song it’s pretty ramshackle and compelling. ‘Cold Eyes’ is one of the standout tracks on the album. There is something unapologetically wretched about it. There is an immediacy that seeps from it that is hard to ignore. It also oozes with Riot Grrrl sensibility. In short, its bloody great and show how with just a few elements, and plenty of feedback, Levi can craft something moving yet slightly dilapidated.

‘A plain clothed Jimi Hendrix drives me to Newcastle. For some reason the trip will take 3 days and he is going to do it for £150. He drives really smoothly and only listens to one album which is by someone with Joy in their name. Joy’s music is covers of classic rock songs but with all the edge smoothed off. We arrive in Brazil and I impress someone because I say obrigado. The same person asks me to find them an intern. I don’t think I can but I try. I am nervous in the girl's changing room and play trap songs loud off my phone.’ takes longer to read the title than to listen to. However, this is part of it. While listening to the song and reading the elongated title, which gives Fiona Apple a run for her money in the naming states, you get a deeper meaning of the song and it becomes something more than just a catchy riff repeated.

‘Ruff Dog’ manages to distil all of Levi’s output in 25 minutes. The wonky fuzz of Micachu and The Shapes is here. As is the harrowing sonic assault and sheer experimentation of Levi’s scoring, most notably ‘Under the Skin. Its all here. You just have to dig a bit to find it. The songs are pretty short. ‘Wing’s is the longest at 4:23 and ‘A plain clothed Jimi Hendrix drives me to Newcastle…’ the shortest at 70-seconds, not counting the title track. The songs never outstay their welcome and leave you wanting more. Also, remarkably, they feel fully formed and not a collection of demos/rough sketches that Levi has been working on that don’t fit in with another project.

The thing that remains after listening to ‘Ruff Dog’ is how catchy it all is. Despite the layers of filmy grime over all the songs the captivating melodies still force their way through. It also makes me want to spend the rest of the day immersed in Levi’s prodigious output. Which is kind of strange, but also totally expected when confronted with an album of this kind from a mesmerising artist.

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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