Micachu & the Shapes

Good Sad Happy Bad

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As they've gained acclaim for the way they teeter between experimental music and indie pop, Micachu & the Shapes haven't made any concessions. If anything, Good Sad Happy Bad suggests that the trio might be incapable of making them. The projects Mica Levi pursued between 2012's Never and this album, like her award-winning Under the Skin score and her production work on her friend Tirzah's left-field pop EPs, have had more scope and more potential mainstream appeal; meanwhile, the Shapes remain as uncompromising as ever on Good Sad Happy Bad, a title that suggests the collision of sounds and feelings in these unpredictable songs. The album's roots lie in a jam session that drummer Marc Pell recorded without telling Levi or keyboardist Raisa Khan, and the finished product keeps that spontaneity. More than ever, Micachu & the Shapes are unconcerned with embellishments that could get in the way of capturing the moment; Levi's gritty, nasal voice is as piercing and artless as a gull's caw on "Sea Air." At times, this immediacy sounds unfinished or vague, leaving the songs in a limbo that's neither catchy enough to be pop nor loose enough to be truly experimental. On "Unity," the juxtaposition of looped screeches and Levi's mumbled lead vocals is intriguing, but ultimately grates because it doesn't go anywhere interesting. Good Sad Happy Bad's sparer songs fare better, echoing the brilliant way Levi used just a handful of notes to craft Under the Skin. The eerie "Waiting" could be a pop interpretation of that score, with little more than a simple keyboard line decorating the space between Levi and the object of her affection as she mutters "you're holding someone too much." This kind of emotional clarity elevates the album's best moments, whether on the Jewellery-esque whimsy of "Dreaming" or "Suffering," a wry expression of the detached self-awareness that runs through much of the Shapes' music. Songs like "O Baby," a haunting mix of hip-hop, soul, and dub that sounds cobbled together from vintage samples (but isn't) and "LA Poison," a reverie where Levi imagines "A place where the cars and people are equal/And they move around each other like lovers/Crashing colliding/Smiling and dying" prove that the Shapes are capable of moments of striking, unsentimental beauty that provide new vantage points on timeless feelings. That Good Sad Happy Bad isn't consistently this good speaks to Micachu & the Shapes' volatile chemistry -- even if this isn't their easiest or most satisfying listening, they're still a remarkably unique band.

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