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Micachu & The Shapes
Chopped & Screwed Steph Kretowicz , April 1st, 2011 13:20

To try to follow Mica Levi and not become bamboozled is a scientific impossibility. As English emissary to the blurred borders of contemporary culture, Micachu proved that the disjointed world of browser tabs and attention deficit could be an album concept in itself. Throwing a universe of influences, ideas and aural snapshots into a frenetic post-post-(post?) modern pastiche for the Micachu album Jewellery in 2009, Levi blew our minds while humbly calling it pop.

For the follow-up, instead of producing more of the same, Levi turns her multi-tasking capabilities to a live recording of classical music written for a Southbank Centre artist residency. Compositions were mulled over while on tour, where she applied a veneration for composer Harry Partch with Purple Drank and her love for hip hop, specifically the down tempo ‘chopped and screwed’ method originated by DJ Screw. Then she’s crammed that, (also flavoured by her penchant for producing off-the-wall grime-related mix tapes), into collaboration with fellow Southbank residents the London Sinfonietta and performed it in the highbrow environs of Kings Place. In the meantime, she’s invited her band (The Shapes) along to help out, while taking the opportunity to try her hand at self-built instruments. She may as well get someone to record the damn thing, simultaneously staving off potential label pressure for a proper follow-up to a promising avant-pop debut and producing her, and Rough Trade’s, first-ever live classical release. That’s all before reaching plurals in studio albums, or a quarter-century of life.

Hence, it’s safe to say that confounding convention has been a strong point in the relatively short lifespan of Micachu & the Shapes. Woozy opener 'State of New York', gives a sense of the slow drift of a mind clouded by promethazine, while Levi’s distorted vocals loiter in a current of see-sawing string arrangements. Allowing for the disorienting effects of constantly changing speeds, the shifting staccato of the string section in 'Everything' is carried by a home-made percussive wheel, the ‘chopper’, commandeered by Levi and mimicking the perceptive aberrations of a warped turntable. As the most characteristic M&TS. track (if there is such a thing), 'Low Dogg' ricochets off the tuneless rhythm of a slightly sharp double-bass as violins echo the wheezing cough of destitution, while 'Unlucky' reflects the intoxicated melancholia accompanying a nagging sense of loss.

As a conceptual arrangement based on such an instinctive style of DJing, Chopped & Screwed appeals directly to the senses, thereby taking two seemingly incompatible genres and establishing a common ground. Meanwhile, in proving themselves as anything but a cliché, Micachu & the Shapes can only be summed up by the greatest one of all: What will they think of next?