Armed with subtle yet snarky British vocals and a staggering amount of originality, Britain's Mica Levi has assembled an album that stands as one of 2009's best so far. I know I have already deemed Reintegration Time by Edmonton's Shout Out Out Out Out as my favorite of 2009 (and Animal Collective before that) but that's the beauty and fun of music. A new album can come right along and send the current king of the hill tumbling along. However, I don't see another album coming anywhere near Micachu & The Shapes' Jewellery as far as 2009 is concerned.
Every once in a while, there comes an album that gets stuck in your head after giving it one listen. You ache to label it an instant classic because you cannot shake how much fun you just had listening to it, but you realize how trite and banal the term "instant classic" really is. The album's songs pop up in your head during work or sitting in class, forcing you to find the song on your iPod as soon as you can so you can satiate your body and mind's need to hear it again. You don't quite know the song's name, but you remember its melody, and you scour the album in question finding it because you can't get it out of your head. You've had this album for less than a day, but you've already managed to devote an insane amount of attention to it. The body of work is impressive and you feel blessed to even have heard such a staggering work of ingenuity.
Jewellery is the perfect example of this power that an album can have over its listener. It took me two days to figure out that Micachu had just given me my prohibitive favorite album for 2009. That's what an amazing album should provide for its listener - instant gratification that lets the savvy listener know they aren't wasting their time with the album. The originality on Micachu's debut effort is insanely unfair. She teamed up with producer and fellow Brit Matthew Herbert to produce the album's inspired, kooky, art house-pop sound. It is plenty dense at times, showing us how truly ingenious Mica Levi really is. Where some bands are way too artsy for their own good, producing boring and flat - yet original and full of promise - music, Micachu and the Shapes show how to make pop music with a sound unheard of in today's music scene. Her pop music is plenty infectious and utterly simply - yet I cannot get over how complex and layered she makes her album sound.
It starts with Levi's subdued, blatantly British vocals. They infuse her music with a subtlety and cynicism that is perfectly befitting of her out-there pop aesthetic. The eerie, pulsating opening of the album's first track, "Vulture" quickly gives way to Levi's inspired vocals -- further cascading into a jumble of clashing cymbals, thumping drums and scratchy, trippy synths. Matthew Herbert's presence is felt (and greatly appreciated) throughout the album, adding a level of sophistication and polish to Levi's often bizarre and random aural aesthetic.
Her songs range from anywhere from three and a half minutes to 53 seconds. The latter, the absolutely transcendent "Sweetheart," is where the album becomes a separate entity from anything produced so far this year. In under a minute, Levi and Herbert manage to infuse acoustic guitars, dub-step worthy bass lines and fuzzed out guitar riffs, complete with a tidy little synth -- cute and yearning in appearance, but providing the song with the necessary clout while acting as a sort of twine, bundling everything together. All of this madness takes place in 53 amazing seconds -- a way for Levi to show off, but also a way for her to show how simple pop music can be.
Other standout tracks like "Golden Telephone," "Curly Teeth," "Ship" and "Just In Case" prove that Micachu & The Shapes are not to be taken lightly. The album hardly pauses to take a breath -- save for the subdued "Floor" and album closer "Guts." Jewellery is one of the most refreshing and -- quite simply -- original albums to come along in quite some time. It is unorthodox in its attention to detail, but Levi and Herbert aren't here to waste your time by fucking around in the studio, making staggeringly dense music that only they and their closest friends will get. Jewellery has mainstream pop appeal and even a few songs lend themselves nicely to mainstream radio -- even though no DJ has the balls to play this on-air.
I will rest my case for 2009's best album, in my opinion. I listen to a great deal of music, and Micachu is by far the best album I have heard this year. It's going to take quite an effort from another band and great deal of humility for me to back down from this position. Mica Levi makes it too easy for me, though, and I am privileged to partake in her astounding artistic masterpiece.
Jewellery is out today on Rough Trade. Check it out here.
Check out Micachu's myspace here.
Please enjoy the video for "Lips."
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