Mica Levi's work with Micachu & the Shapes is often maximalist in the best possible way, brimming over with ideas and sounds. While the band's collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, which resulted in 2011's Chopped & Screwed, nodded to her classical training (including her studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama), the masterful restraint she displays on her first solo project, and first score, is a welcome surprise. Her music for Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer's film about a man-eating alien cloaked in the alluring disguise of Scarlett Johansson's body, is unobtrusive yet unmistakable, suggesting a mood of barely suppressed panic and emptiness without defining it too obviously. Levi's inspirations are classical and classic, and the way she combines minimalism and the essentials of horror/suspense scores modernizes both. Levi evokes much with little: strings buzz with frantic, insectoid activity, sometimes converging in a nervous hum; meanwhile, lumbering percussion suggests heartbeats, the way time slows down in the face of fear and/or a diabolical machine that, once started, can't be stopped. The score's star, however, is a creeping three-note motif that is even eerier because of its simplicity and strange familiarity. With just a few tweaks, Levi makes it sound menacing, seductive, or vulnerable -- or most dangerously, all three at once, as on "Lipstick to Void." "Drift" is another standout, and one of the finest examples of how Levi creates as much tension with her use of silence as she does within the music; it's no coincidence that the titles of some of the score's pieces suggest not just empty spaces but actively, hypnotically destructive ones. Under the Skin's repetition makes its minute changes stand out even more, whether it's the lower counterpoint on "Andrew Void" that adds weight and depth, the odd sweetness of "Lonely Void"'s high harmonies, or the way "Love" fleshes out and warms up the score's drones into something equally sensual and painful (and reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti's fondness for ultra-romantic processed strings). The repetition also intensifies the score's emotional pull -- you don't have to have seen the movie to be frightened whenever that thumping beat kicks in -- and emphasizes its circular nature. Between the scrabbling bookends of "Creation" and "Alien Loop," each track blends into the next like a fever dream. Under the Skin is a fantastic study in tension and terror, and an exciting beginning to what will hopefully be a lengthy career for Levi as a solo artist and film composer.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
|Under the Skin|