Never Predictable, Always Fun
What is pop? Pop (née “popular music”) used to be so many different things for so long. It had incredible flexibility, and yet today it seems pigeonholed within the darkened cavern called corporate music production. However, in reviewing Never, we’re forced to conclude with a shout from XTC, Micachu and the Shapes’ fellow countrymen: This is pop. Sure, lead track “Easy” kicks up the kind of noise bad dreams are made of, but the underlying attention to wringing melody out of these disparate sounds cannot go unappreciated.
Vocalist/guitarist Micachu (real name Mica Levi) leads the band, Raisa Khan (keyboards) and Marc Pell (drums), through a collection of jittery and boisterous tunes that bleed fun. There is sparsely a guitar sound here that would be construed as normal, Micachu—who often makes her own instruments—instead opts for what sounds like a half-guitar half-violin being bent like a cubist impossibility. Working with such a wide-open sonic framework, however, allows Mica to really show how clever and acute her ear for pop is.
This might be best exemplified on the ferociously angular closer, “Nowhere,” where the tiny leads squiggle across the landscape while a washboard rhythm guitar gallops behind. Both Khan and Pell aren’t lost in this fun however, as their moments are just as memorable. Khan’s atmospherics help color the quirky “You Know,” while Pell’s snare on the same sounds like he’s beating on tightly stretched butcher paper with a fly swatter.
The crowning jewel of the album is unquestionably the wonderful “Holiday.” Showing classic pop tact, The Shapes place the track dead center in the album, giving a nice balance. “Holiday” works so well precisely because it toes the line between the familiar and the obscure masterfully. Mica, likely with one of her trademark self-made instruments, leads the proceedings with a “garbage truck shifting gears” rhythm part that locks in nicely with the rest of the band. The pleasantly nasal droll of a vocal guides through the verses before giving way to a glorious, though compact chorus, wrapped with soul-massaging harmonies (peppered elsewhere on the album, as well). With all this said however, the true genius of the track is its building to a rousing climax: The back end rides layered, cascading vocals, an unmistakable jaunting groove, all before the cathartic final release of… a snare hit. Just when you think Mica and the gang are going to sell you on a unified last note, they pull the rug out from under you and leave you on the hardwood floor thinking, “You’re right. It is better this way.”
Though “Holiday” is the obvious highlight, other standout tracks include the wobbly “OK,” which sounds like it could have been a Harrison-penned Revolver outtake, and the slanted hip-hop of “Low Dogg.” Highly inventive and uncompromisingly unique, Never succeeds on many levels and helps to bridge the gap between harmony and cacophony in a way that is both truly pop and truly art.