For my first few listens through each new studio album by London band Micachu & the Shapes
, it feels like a glorious throwback to the early 80s, when their label Rough Trade was releasing similarly brilliant and herky-jerky art-pop by the likes of Essential Logic, Kleenex, and Delta 5—the rhythms are clipped and stiff, the delivery sarcastic, the attitude taciturn. With repeated spins, though, Micachu's music opens up, especially on the excellent new Never
. Front woman Mica Levi is incredibly savvy, using the band's chaos and her own deadpan delivery to disguise her craftiness. Her singing rarely rises above conversational volume, but her clenched voice delivers insinuating hooks and strong opinions, the latter directed squarely at a world that pretends to know what's best for her. "You Know
" describes the awkwardness of expressing affection, and how a flat response like "I know" might encourage you to keep it to yourself next time; "OK
" is about irritation at perfunctory concern ("Are you sure you're OK? / Couldn't be better"). There are some downcast tunes toward the end of the album, including the terse but gentle "Top Floor
," in which Levi wonders about "jumping into the white sky," and the weirdly inert "Fall
," where she imagines the aftermath of her own suicide. Despite the darkness of those tracks, though, Never
keeps pulling me back, months after those first listens. This show is part of Adventures in Modern Music; see page BTK. —Peter Margasak Holy Other, Lee Noble, and Jozef Van Wissem open.