Bored? What you’re reading right now is how I relieve my boredom, or rather how I coax myself into believing that I’ve done so. Beyond my case, boredom permeates the lives of some of the most expressive people, and Surrey, UK’s Mica Levi is of that ilk, or at least it seems that way on Never, her sophomore album in the trio Micachu and the Shapes. Over a mutated “Then He Kissed Me” melody, she portrays herself on the standout “Holiday” anticipating a day to escape the tedium of her job, dryly moaning the chorus after a fed-up declaration “Another year another/ If this carries on I might leave my job.” Were it not for the refrain peeking through, she’d almost sound stoic, but the instrumental commotion is incredibly bouncy so as to signify her anxiety. This wondrous tune is just one example of how someone can excite themselves out of the drab reality.
It’s in this world (that which is illustrated across Never) that I find myself having more fun than elsewhere this year. On camera, it consists of the Shapes singing and dancing about in environments that look as if they’ve been designed using Mario Paint, and on record, the ease in envisioning it negates the use of a visual component. As was the case with 2009’s Jewellery, Levi turns ostensibly boring household items into kitchen-sink noisemakers to which most of Never’s fun is accredited. However, unlike the bare rocker “Lips” from their debut-- wherein a contorted guitar riff is paired with a simple drumbeat-- “Slick” bobs along with a cornucopia of sundry textures. From its bizarre, slightly off-key harmonies to tumbling rhythmic breaks, this memorable love song is embellished into a deft experiment in adorable trash-pop. The album's colorful backdrop carries logic behind its many noises, coexisting in a remote yet cozy microcosm.
Micachu and the Shapes straddle makeshift sound-art and adept songwriting, at times teetering with just as impressive results. “Fall” and its successor “Nothing” distort the concept of balladry but appear as polar opposites. The former is almost as quiet as a whisper-- a deliquescing assembly of chords that meet a baffling detour. The latter is a tender waltz (featuring a fantastic appearance from Wesley Gonzalez of Let’s Wrestle) and simultaneously a dismissal of normality articulated through a saccharine melody, easily making for Never’s most beautiful moment. Even so, the additions subtly looming over it are marred beyond identification and still manage to project discomfort.
Neither utopian nor dystopian, Never’s animated environment seems provoked by the inescapable mundane. In sync with sporadic bursts across the verses of “Low Dogg”, Levi sings “My everyday’s the same/ Days the same, stays the same, days the same/ How can I explain this panic in my brain?” It needn’t be explained, because it’s voiced through a relentless fuzzed-out growl, constantly on the precipice of exploding. At this point, when liberation will arrive becomes the greatest question, and the fussy closer “Nowhere” answers it with invigorating volume. An in-the-red punk blitz, it blares with a jubilee of pinging synths and a bent guitar hook supporting the consolation, “There’s nowhere in this world I’d rather be,” a line I stand in total agreement with as I flip back to side A.
[Stream/Buy Never from Rough Trade Records]