Mica Levi’s career trajectory (if you can call it that) has been all over the place. Following along the winding course from negligent Guild Hall student, to grime-y beat maker and a brief moment as avant pop saviour, the London-based childish prodigy, otherwise known as Micachu, is an unusual artist to say the least. Tumbling from an early career peak in 2009 with the critically acclaimed debut Jewellery, she quickly turned away from the experimental pop trail and onto the variably received live experimentation of Chopped & Screwed release in 2011. From there, there’s been a Southbank residency, Spitalfields Festival curation and reams of self-produced video, remix and mixtape credits to keep us occupied, while keeping relatively silent on the pop front, until now.
With Never, her second album release Proper out on Rough Trade, Micachu and her ‘Shapes’, Marc Pell and Raisa Khan, reconvene to create an album that lives up to the state of creative and emotional limbo a title like Never evokes. With ideas that are nowhere and everywhere at the same time, it goes some way in explaining a track listing of laconic song titles like ‘Nothing’, ‘Nowhere’ and ‘You Know’. Like the latter linguistic filler, there’s a sense of ambivalence towards the world and Micachu’s place within it that pervades all of Levi’s work. From the anti-romance of Jewellery’s ‘Eat Your Heart’, ‘Golden Phone’ and ‘Lips’ to the dead-eyed distraction of ‘Unlucky’, ‘Average’ and ‘Not So Sure’ in Chopped & Screwed, that sense of uncertainty and anxiety reaches fever pitch in Never under a thin veil of reckless abandon.
Levi’s lyrics are now more essential to her work than ever and reveal a growing sentiment of disillusionment best summarised in the call-and-response chorus of ‘OK’. The manic electronic excursion drips with defensive irony as Levi replies to Khan’s, “Are you sure you’re okay?’ with an unconvincing “’Couldn’t be better’.” As always, risen from a sonic scrap heap of unusual and found sounds, Never is a brew of noise, sampling and frenetic rhythms distinct to the Micachu catalogue. It moves beyond an original aesthetic of unhinged compositions bound in organic sounds, while still clinging to a collage of its past. A familiar muted guitar rhythm in ‘Waste’ resembles the killer power pop track ‘Lips’ of Jewellery, while a Hoover sample (abandoned early on in Micachu & the Shapes live sets for fear of being too much of a gimmick) reappears in opening track ‘Easy’. There are even two songs, ‘Fall’ and ‘Low Dogg’, that are downbeat re-imaginings from last year’s Chopped & Screwed track listing. Most surprisingly, that sense of caustic sarcasm surfaces all the way through an album that revisits done-to-death-but-never-like-this excursions into The Beach Boys circa ‘Good Vibrations’ on ‘Holiday’, even The Beatles’ Rubber Soul in the creepy, off-key vocal of ‘OK’.
Coming from an unusual foundation of grime, garage and classical music that missed the rock revival boat of the early millennium, Micachu offers a unique perspective on indie rock. A melancholy awareness of her own ambivalence is best described in the undeniably infectious chorus of Micachu & the Shapes most self-realised pop song yet, ‘Nothing’ where words like, “take your pity and sympathy ‘cause there is nothing wrong with me”, reveal the ever-present sense of sadness and dry wit driven from a source that is equal parts dejected and endlessly creative.