The truest universal language of music on the planet for some 50 years, pop has crossed borders and united races, turned tides and marked events of massive historical significance.
Just look to any montage of key moments of mankind’s progress over the period: from one small step for man and the falling of the Berlin wall, to Derek Redmond limping to the finish line at Barcelona ’92 and a certain royal passing on in a Paris underpass. All will be accompanied by the pop of the time.
But pop’s design was perfected some decades ago, and it’s this establishment of a structure, if not a singular sound due to variations within a framework, that has ensured its enduring appeal. Nowadays it’s easy to spot the pretenders amongst the pioneers, or the other way around if we’re being honest – it’s a rare occurrence indeed to spy an artist playing with a formula in such a way that they genuinely stand out from an ever-expanding pack of replicants doomed to repeat ‘til fade.
Which makes Micachu (And The Shapes) a rare act indeed. The trio’s template is one that’s been passed down through the years, but what they do with the accepted constituent pieces is quite remarkable. This isn’t otherworldly pop, as if beamed in from beyond the stars; it’s not so far removed from a perceived norm. What it is: creativity given space and time to blossom, prodigious youths unafraid to fuck with convention, reconstructing the dissected into forms that feel fresh and imaginative. It’s real word language with its lexicon expanded dramatically.
A succession of quickfire sneak-peeks into the mind of Micachu lynchpin Mica Levi, ‘Jewellery’ plays out like a classic pop album – it’s not sequenced for overall effect, instead a patchwork affair of styles that never completely contrast, but at the same time rarely combine to form a flurry of sound-alike arrangements. It’s got more in common in this respect with a Spice Girls record than it does, say, many an act on the band’s label, Rough Trade; the bands who make albums in the old way, with no regard for digestion via download, literally in bits and pieces. ‘Jewellery’ features no song over four minutes long; every vocal arrives early doors; each track hits the ground running. It’s pop for the modern age, when people don’t have the time to sit with a record for forty minutes before forming an impression. “Chop me down so I fit in your laptop,” sang Late Of The Pier, who recently toured with Micachu in support, and here’s music already properly portioned.
While Levi is the driving force throughout, the playfully skittering music about her direct vocals is the product of collaboration with colleagues The Shapes, a pair of similarly music school-trained souls with invention flowing in their veins. When stripped bare to its most skeletal, as on ‘Floor’ (“My feelings are slightly misshaped,” sings Levi, almost as a nod to her way with composition), ‘Jewellery’ exudes a real emotive force, its heart not so much on sleeve as in palms and presented to the listener as a gift. At these moments Micachu’s messages are bold, confident despite their tenderness. But it’s when all three musicians lock into deliriously wonky rhythms and peculiar percussive patterns that the whole becomes so much more than the product of so many enticing parts.
‘Eat Your Heart’ emerges into focus through a thick fog of scratchy cut ‘n’ paste sonics, a la Prefuse 73 taking his scalpel to adventurous folksters Tunng. The squeaks and bleeps of ‘Curly Teeth’ will certainly rub some up the wrong way, but as the song switches direction to deliver a bombastic passage of buzzsaw drone one’s immediately struck by its makers’ carefree attitude to sculpting these songs. Well, seemingly carefree; of course, for such complexities to appear so simple takes serious talent. Previous single ‘Golden Phone’ sounds as summery as it did upon its release last year, all 8bit beats and loose strumming, and ‘Turn Me Well’ introduces the everyday household vacuum cleaner as an essential component of any pop artist’s instrument arsenal. Like many offerings here, it shouldn’t work, and on paper sounds ridiculous… But in the context of the track, it’s perfect, like The Knife running riot in the electrical department at John Lewis.
At times the whole thing takes a turn for the romantic, and it’s these instances of well-articulated feelings that separates what’s a superbly accomplished debut on a technical level from being simply a curio of what can be achieved when youth dares to fly in the face of convention. Instead, ‘Jewellery’ manages to express its openhearted elements alongside its meticulous machine-shop musicianship, trial-and-error experimentation embellished with real soul where others in a similar position might deliver a coldly precise collection.
This is no complete reinvention of the pop wheel – its adherence to at least a handful of traits ensures that (it has vocals, rhyme schemes even). But ‘Jewellery’ offers a vision of what can be achieved when stereotype shackles are tossed aside, and one’s whims can be indulged without fear of compromise; it is progression beyond the existing blueprints. It won’t, however, be its makers’ defining work, but as a foundation from which to grow ‘Jewellery’ is a sparkling success. Expect to hear Micachu soundtracking remarkable occurrences of 2012 and beyond.
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Listen to three tracks from ‘Jewellery’ on ClashMusic.com HERE