Micachu & The Shapes
On the surface, mica levi (a.k.a. micachu) might seem like the sonic equivalent of the cinematic manic pixie, with music that’s unabashedly eccentric, off center, and maybe a bit obnoxious to rational types. However, consider that this British musician is classically trained in performance and composition and draws inspiration from the late microtonal music maverick and instrument inventor Harry Partch, leading one to believe that there might be method among the madness. Never is the second studio album from Micachu and her backing band The Shapes, and while it doesn’t leave the pop music world for rigorous classical excursions, it reveals Micachu as a lover of sounds—along the lines of similarly warped and playful artists like The Residents and Renaldo & The Loaf—who feels comfortable in odd situations.
The album opens with the disparate ensemble of “Easy” with clangs, slide guitar licks, synthesized raucous bursts, and even the noises of a vacuum cleaner being powered down. Generally, it may resemble a less abrasive and rhythm-focused version of destroyed-keyboard electroclash mashed with Beck’s unrelenting sound-hopping and Tom Waits’s junkyard-hobo percussion. Highlights include the hip-hop-beat-enhanced “Low Dogg,” with a nearly inane and simple yet effective hook, and “Nowhere,” which ends the album on a whipped frenzy, driving a note into the ground with glee. “Fall” is an oddball track among oddballs, with random guitar strum interludes that are mirrored by irregular drum hits. There is room for improvement on Never, particularly with the vocals, which could stand to be more animated and with more memorable lyrics. Ultimately, much of the listener’s enjoyment of Never may depend on one’s perspective regarding weirdness. It’s an album that may repel those who dislike musicians who try too hard to be weird and possibly appeal to those who think that musicians in general aren’t weird enough.
Beyond the Sea
At one end of the spectrum, there’s a standpoint on sampling in music that places it in the realm of high art, like the pioneering tape-based electroacoustic music of Pierre Schaeffer in the mid-20th century, now taken seriously as an avant-garde extension of modern classical music. Then, at the other end, there are throwaway novelty uses for sampling (think “Jingle Dogs”). Everything else isn’t so easy to place within the spectrum; there’s plenty of sub-par industrial music and hip-hop based on sampling, and truly inspired mash-ups are hard to come by. Ohioan Ted Feighan, the man behind Monster Rally, has found a cozy place on the spectrum, using obscure sample sources—seemingly from decades-old vinyl records, primarily—without crowding his aural collages, differing from contemporaries such as the sample-cramming Girl Talk.
On Monster Rally’s new album, Beyond the Sea, available on vinyl and as a “name-your-price” digital download, Feighan wisely uses restraint and does not overdo it, with songs that last just long enough—around one to three minutes long—to present their ideas and not overstay their welcome. The tracks also aren’t quite as ambitious or outlandish as those from some like-minded artists that come to mind, such as 1990’s outfits Dymaxion or Stock, Hausen & Walkman, but they are actually a bit relaxing, despite often using upbeat funk rhythm snippets, with no jarring moments of discomfort. It’s like a circa 1960 international snapshot via your parents’ vinyl collection, with choice loops from genres including exotica, bossa nova and soul. An island flavor is conveyed with Hawaiian lap steel glides on “Waltz” or stuttering steel drums on “Animals,” while “Veranda” makes good use of harp runs and a minimal bass-drum-and-tambourine rhythm. For what it is, Beyond the Sea works just fine, but there is a definite potential for more daring adventures in plunderphonics.