It’s hard to know, at first, what to make of Micachu and the Shapes. Quite frankly, this is one truly weird band. Technically speaking they play pop music, or, rock music, or something involving the basic framework of a pop song or a rock song, but not really. Confused? Me too. Starting from the top might help: Micachu is the performing name of 21-year-old UK songwriter Mica Levi, who writes and performs her songs on a miniature guitar that sounds, more or less, like a ukulele. On debut album Jewellery, Micachu and her band The Shapes are backed by producer Matthew Herbert, known for making beautiful and lush dance music constructed from samples of coffins and tailpipes and other various found objects.
The combination of Herbert and Levi should be enough to get the message across that this is an unconventional production, but it’s far more bonkers than you could ever imagine. Jewellery is a punk rock Muppet factory. It buzzes, it squeaks, it quacks and zings. It has melodies, and it has hooks, and it has a steamer trunk full of bells and whistles. In 29 minutes the album charts a kamikaze course from the fireworks factory through a robot parade and crashes lands inside a candy shop. That may sound fun on paper, but it doesn’t even begin to describe the half of it.
Leadoff track “Vulture” seems almost normal at first, a fuzzy pop song with infectious hooks and a straightforward progression, until it descends into an explosion of distortion and mid-verse breakdowns that abruptly arise like columns shooting up from the ground. The 53-second standout “Sweetheart” juxtaposes a pretty, melancholy melody that sounds like a robot’s heart breaking with a skipping fuzz rock rhythm. “Eat Your Heart” buzzes and clacks in a manner similar to one of Herbert’s own composition, but when Levi jumps in with her jaunty folk strum, the song becomes something else entirely. And in spite of the squelching electro sounds in “Curly Teeth,” the song is actually quite pretty.
While part of what makes Jewellery such a stimulating listen is its unconventional instrumentation and sonic innovation, the level of songwriting is certainly top notch. “Just In Case” is a noisy, clattering stomper of a song, but it’s also one of the album’s best melodies. “Golden Phone,” likewise finds Herbert laying down a playful, danceable bed for Levi’s sweet vocals, and “Calculator” incorporates the riff from “Tequila” into a rollicking garage rocker. Even closer “Turn Me Well,” which begins with the sound of a vacuum cleaner, is a stunning ballad, the prettiest song on the album, though not necessarily the most conventional.
Several spins into Jewellery, and it’s still a bit of a puzzler. Like I said, it’s sort of pop music, kind of rock music, but neither and both, and something else entirely. It is, however, one of the most innovative things I’ve heard this year, possibly ever. And while much of the appeal lies in its off-the-wall, anything goes nature, there are good songs here, really good ones. Nonetheless, this is some crazy shit.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.