Micachu & the Shapes

Never

(CD - Rough Trade #RTRADCD 642)

Review by

Micachu & the Shapes burst onto the scene in 2009 with Jewellery, which fashioned forward-thinking pop from junk-shop sounds, homemade instruments and, above all, a keen sense of mischief. That mischievous streak is as strong as ever on Never, an album whose point-blank title hints at how uncompromising its contents are. Mica Levi and company deliver songs that feel more like contraptions built on Rube Goldberg-esque arrangements where each part is wackier than the next, and sound like they were cobbled together in a workshop rather than recorded in a studio. The band self-produced the album, opting for a dense, gnarled sound that seems rawer than Jewellery even if it's not actually lo-fi, a feeling emphasized by the focus on texture and rhythm instead of melody; "Golden Phone," one of their debut's singles, might as well be teen pop by comparison. Even Never's poppiest moments sound like they've been scribbled over with droning, churning noise, and it takes a while to decipher them. However, the mischief that makes the album feel almost like a prank at first also holds it together and keeps it running. The metallic rattle that punctuates "Easy" could very well be the band picking up parts of the song that shook loose; meanwhile, the fittingly named "Waste" sounds like it was composed on a malfunctioning game console rescued from the trash. At first, Never seems even choppier and more screwed up than the Shapes' Chopped and Screwed, but there is a definite flow -- or at least order -- to the album's proceedings. "Slick" ushers in the album's relatively accessible midsection with a gliding rhythm and a hint of melody, which sounds all the sweeter compared to what came before it. With its singsong tune and grinding rhythm, "OK"'s nagging pop doesn't so much stick in listeners' heads as it does wear down a groove in them, and "Low Dogg" juxtaposes a literal "pop" borrowed from Spike Jones with a hip-hop-tinged beat for an incongruous and intriguing sonic wink. However, Micachu & the Shapes are just as eager to break their songs as they are to make them, and they begin to deconstruct Never with "Glamour"'s conversational snippets. Yet the album's strangest song has to be "Nothing," where saccharine strings and a warbling organ soundtrack an account of a beatdown by an old man in equally violent and nostalgic fashion. While Jewellery's nimble pastiches and small but palpable emotional undercurrent are missed occasionally, Never is never boring, and fans will have as much fun figuring out what makes these musical wind-up toys tick as Micachu and company had putting them together.

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