According to Mica Levi, Micachu & The Shapes‘ most recent album Good Sad Happy Bad was a spontaneous creative process. Improvisation (read: jamming) sessions with drummer Marc Bell and keyboardist Raisa Khan lead to the skeleton of the album, which were then built upon over a number of months. Yet, it doesn’t take very long to notice that the final product is a less intricate Notre Dame than it is a minimalist New Museum with a few unfinished window installations.
Never really known for playing pop music as we know it (or as we usually think about it), Good Sad Happy Bad continues the tradition of entry-level experimental music. It’s not particularly catchy as a whole, but there are some compelling and engaging sounds. Oh Baby’s introduction has a short but sweet key run that resolves into a three note riff on top of which Levi sings. Underneath it, drowned vocal nothings pulsate while the percussion keeps a mellow and chilled time. ‘Thinking It’ is a fast-paced track with a chugging guitar line and light-hearted synths. Rather than sing, Levi shares her opinions on running via spoken word track with classic English equivocality: the running “will make me live longer, maybe. So perhaps I’ll get to enjoy my old age if I’m lucky, that’ll be nice I guess.”
Elsewhere, nothing but a four-note pattern that sounds like a low battery warning signal from a ’90s device takes the spotlight for ‘Waiting’. Levi’s voice is multi-tracked to jab in on the penultimate syllables of each line, creating the same sensation a throbbing headache would, in waves. Then on ‘Unity’, the song’s foundations are a sample of a scream that must have been recorded from screaming into the mouth’s end of a running vacuum cleaner. That sense of strain is also heard on ‘Sea Air’, Levi heaving away while electronics blip like a child’s crayon stabs.
However, some songs feel like they could’ve used more work. Opener ‘Sad’ has synths shooting mellow lasers but there’s no real crescendo or release. Even when the lyrics trails on the ‘to’ of ‘When I feel sad, I want toooo—’ Turns out, all she wants is ‘to be okay.’ It’s lethargic, almost to a fault. When Bell adds some drum fills towards the end, accompanying repeated reassurances that “it’s going to be okay,” it’s almost like it’s done out of boredom. It’s on ‘Crushed’ that the lack of gravity seems most apparent with audible intra-bandmate conversation. The drums ride on the cymbals for the most part of the song, seemingly dragged along while waiting for inspiration from either Levi or Khan. It doesn’t really come as Levi is happy to ramble and mimic bees rather than deliver.
All in all, Good Sad Happy Bad teeters on the edge of deliberate playfulness, sometimes losing balance. Yet, the band still strikes their quirky, charming note, and one can still foresee the songs lending themselves to fun live experiences, which Levi has gone on record as saying she’s looking forward to.
Micachu and the Shapes’ Good Sad Happy Bad came out Sept 11. They play at POP Montreal on September 16 with Look Vibrant and MagicPerm at Bar Le Ritz (179 Jean Talon W.) at 9 p.m. $20 at door.