Review Summary: Scraps and heaps of junk constructed meticulously to create improbable pop. Lewis tries one more time to explain why.
I guess we’re close enough to the end of the year now that I should start backing up a bit and explaining myself. Back in March when Jewellery
was first unleashed upon my speakers (R.I.P.), my knee-jerk reaction was something akin to a ticking addict-bomb getting his first hit of cocaine: I’d be embarrassed to show you the play count and you’d probably shake your head in pity. My original review (a 4 o’ clocker if I can recall correctly, so you know what’s up) was a succinct representation (not “explanation” or even really “understandable,” but that’s a ramble for another blog) of the indescribable feelings I had towards the intangible jumble of bedroom pop strewn out before me. Mica Levi caught me at a period where I was desperate for different and met the challenge tenfold, making Jewellery
equal parts pop experiment and illuminating character study on one of the more interesting female songwriters to emerge from the decade. I called it “an album that speaks well enough for itself” and I certainly meant it. I still do. This review might still not mean anything, but Micachu has given me plenty so this one’s for her.
Opener “Vulture” drives forth quickly what Jewellery
might amount to, cutting right to distorted, tuneless guitars and a bass that bellows out through a crackle of fuzz. Then enters Levi, fussed and a bit hurried, her British accent inflecting just the right amount of smug vigor to catch us off guard: “Vulture, vulture, don’t make me laugh / that poisonous drink was just a half / half of my leg is still my calf / you’d have to drink that / 18 times.” A bit confrontational, if you will, abrasive in the way that startles but never strikes. All the while, the Shapes (Marc Pell and Raisa Khan, working percussion, synths and backing vocals, respectively) shuffle generously behind her, catching her syllables with a neat plastering of sound. They too, are a bit abrasive in a way that startles but never strikes. Not till “Sweetheart” do we get an open glimpse of the fractured pop album time reveals, a blissful little 53-second romp of a hook sizzling with a paragraph-length spool of wordplay that Levi delivers with a dire earnestness.
This open letter to pop formula won’t be so apparent again until “Golden Phone”, and stopgaps “Eat Your Heart” and “Curly Teeth” end up appearing to be, initially anyway, the album’s first true polarizing experiments in sound. “Eat Your Heart”, opening up on contorted bass and the tinkering of a toy xylophone, leads toward a chorus that pounds like a mallet, Levi leading as the force that drives them: “I could eat your heart.” “Curly Teeth” allows itself a similar moment of startling payoff, making its liberal use of squelching samples and erratic percussion worth it just to get enveloped by a chorus that practically guts the floor (“boom boom dead / yeah you thought that it would last”), but the verses bloom into their own thorny nuggets of music. Levi has a way with diction, giving way to quotable favorites: “She’s got my money now I’m sinking too deep / those curly teeth / that f
ucking fief.” Payoffs become essential to buying into the bits that appear questionable, and Jewellery
holds them aplenty for those who persevere.
Two easy standouts appear on the second half of Jewellery
: game-changer “Golden Phone” and brooding “Turn Me Well.” “Golden Phone” is the defining moment on the album, a perfect three minutes of music that never fails to be anything but really, really
good pop, collecting generous handclaps and effective harmonizing to maintain a pleasurably sedated first half before the beat changes and the song is thrown into the power pop the band has managed to conservatively avoid (“Since U Been Gone” is a notable forbear and I mean that as a compliment). One could view it as a big slab of irony (a counterculture statement to producers demanding the same tired sound while being quite accessible itself?) but I like to think of it as Micachu & the Shapes just wondering why those with the power don’t use it. “How could they care / it’s a nonsense sound / this sound is everywhere / but it can’t be found” is a good thesis to the pots-and-pans DIY approach the band is trying to achieve, even more so because they succeed, in creating a great song and doing it without compromise.
They nearly capture lightning again with “Turn Me Well,” Jewellery
’s portrayal of a contemporary ballad (of the Top 40 kind, with big bass and melodrama). Much has been made over the instruments Levi made for the band (one called a chu
, a modified guitar played with a hammer action), and here she uses a vacuum to create a hook. That reads weird, because it is weird, and weirder because it works, mostly because of Levi who proves fast to be a brilliant lyricist. When I first listened and fell in love with Jewellery
, I thought “Turn Me Well” began “I was told that I had a sell by date,” which read a little corny but easily acceptable. I was surprised to find upon further investigation that the line read “I was told desire had a sell by date / well it’s rotted and altered but still remains,” defying expectation again, sparking a whole new insight into the song with a simple change of a word. Jewellery
still has so many other songs to enjoy and articulate, to explain in terms understandable and hopefully relatable. It is deeply personal, sure, but only ever in hindsight, when I’m flipping through the pages of Jewellery
’s booklet (useful and wonderfully constructed) or gushing on in conversation.
is played, at the maximum volume allowed, all I care about is what’s coming out of the speakers. Each twisted note and impatient beat, all the disjointed parts that come together so well once “Guts” closes (and even then there’s bonus track “Hardcore”). The album only gets weirder as it barrels on, and emerging at the finish does a lot to alter the impressions going in. “Vulture” doesn’t sound the same. All of it’s a bit different, sometimes especially now, when I think I’ve got it figured out. I’m intrigued by what the band does with the sounds they are given, constructing them meticulously out of scraps and heaps of junk to create improbable pop. It gestates and cools, rambles and explodes. The members throw chunks of melodies into the mix like we deserve the respite. Micachu ... well, she has the spark necessary to make it glow.