Sound and vision

You can be old and like Micachu and the Shapes
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  July 16, 2009

VIDEO: Micachu and the Shapes live at SxSW

At home this morning — my feet hoisted awkwardly up on an ottoman because I threw my back out moving stuff yesterday — I consider my age. Thirty-three is an odd, in-betweener year, a bummer that smarts all the more because it doesn’t really warrant much complaining. It marks a clean “just-getting-started” third if you buy into the idea that everyone gets about a century of battery power to work with. But by this math, everything one does or experiences between the ages of 1 and 32 belongs within the same set. That is, 33 is the perfect time to doubt your taste in just about everything.

When I hurried into a large tent to catch Micachu (a/k/a Mica Levi) and the Shapes at SxSW this past March, my back was, once again, killing me. Burnt pink, saddled with a heavy bag, and with both shoulders sparking from extended juggling of Shiner cans and Flipcams, I was in shit shape. This would normally be the point where the writer’s woes get turned around by the subject’s music. Like, one of Micachu’s songs shakes the very pain away and I take a fearless critical Nestea plunge into the refreshing pool (or beverage, or whatever) of the music.

Far from it. Her songs were tough to dance to (“a clawing atonal clamber,” I blogged that night) and tougher to make out, and their porous surfaces made them seem as cobbled from gaps as from ideas. They also sounded aimed squarely at the faces of an age bracket of attention spans to which I hadn’t belonged in some time. There weren’t A-parts and B-parts — they hyperactively hopped whole alphabets. Keyboardist Raisa Khan’s messy electronic giblets bruised under the thunky percussive run-ons of drummer Marc Pell while Mica scoured her nails across a savagely modified half-sized acoustic guitar. Her vocal lines flitted across the music like tiptoes touching hot coals. She was incidental, non-committal, given to fits of frightened falsettos before flattening back into nervous banter, her absurdity often lent austerity by her sturdy London accent.

But after a few songs of what I had already begun summing up in my head as something for the kids, Levi’s love of melody started hooking me. There’s a pop case to be made for her messes, especially on Jewellery, her debut for producer Matthew Herbert’s Accidental label. The scrappy textures of “Golden Phone” are no match for its charming harmonies. The unruly “Eat Your Heart” makes its own catchy sense by portioning off large chunks of atonal unrest into what feels like a punk refrain. “Wrong” gathers a metallic clatter into spiky, stuttering avant-pop the idiosyncratic likes of which haven’t been around since Solex. She draws as much from Herbert’s audiophilic arsenal of everyday sounds as from Harry Partch’s homespun microtonal explorations — and sometimes, as with the wheezy Hoover featured on “Turn Me Well,” she finds a little of each in the same moment. Given how rich her music is, it’s a fair deal that she accommodates the limited attentions of her peers (she’s 21) as she rewards the more doting spans of her watchers.

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