- Mica Levi and band regroup for an album full of wry humour and sweet sentiment.
- Good Sad Happy Bad is a long-in-the-works rebirth for Micachu & The Shapes, the Mica Levi-led band that brought the UK auteur to fame before they turned her focus to production, film scoring and experimental music. The new group actually announced the change in 2016 (named after their 2015 album) with a promised reshuffle: keyboardist Raisa Khan would move to lead vocals, and musician and producer CJ Calderwood joined to add colour and texture with saxophone, recorder and other instruments. Their first album under the new name, Shades, arrives four years later, and the group sounds refreshed and focused. Here, their skronky and scrappy sound goes to a more tuneful, '80s-indie rock influenced place, with a spiky attitude and a wry sense of humour that should make it irresistible for anyone who ever had a post-punk or indie rock phase.
The sound of Shades is a patchwork of '80s touchstones: a touch of Paisley Underground, a dash of K Records, some early My Bloody Valentine and a broad stroke of C86 jangle. The music sounds vaguely distant, like it's actually coming from an old, weatherbeaten tape, but don't mistake that for lo-fi. The production is rich and detailed, especially the way the band churn in and out of stormy, keyboard-horns-and-guitar jams, like the opening of the title track or the end of "Taking."
Each track is bite-sized, focused on one or two great riffs—usually doubled-up on keyboard and guitar—and a disaffected vocal. The lyrics alternate between dryly funny and touchingly sweet, each one like a snappy aphorism or slogan. My favourite is "Star," an early highlight that features the refrain: "You're more like the sun / because you shine all alone / you're more like the sun / whenever I need some." And then there's "Blessed," which starts out mopey—"I'm always letting people down"—before turning into a pep talk.
The odd sound palette and bright, simple songs make Shades a close cousin to Tirzah and her avant-pop gem Devotion, a record co-produced by Mica Levi. But Good Sad Happy Bad go to much further-flung places: jagged new wave on "Honey," My Bloody Valentine-meets-Bleach-era-Nirvana on the furious "This Skin," careening fuzz-rock on "Reaching." The songs are rarely as simple as they seem, either, the chewy riffs made with alternate tunings, the arrangements loaded with wailing sax and dextrous keyboard, all passed through a dense web of filters.
The combination of irony, confectionery-sweet pop and out-there production is a Mica Levi signature, but true to the band's name change, Shades feels like a group effort. Khan's deadpan but catchy vocals are a huge part of the appeal, and the whole band sounds locked in, especially Calderwood and his wild soloing. After years of prestigious awards and collaborations—including Oscar and BAFTA nods—Shades sees Levi sink back into the band that originally made her famous, and they all sound like they're having a lot of fun. It's the kind of quietly brilliant record that makes you fall in love with a band all over again, sharpening their approach—and songwriting—without losing the shambolic charm that made them so loveable in the first place.
01. Do It
05. Believe it
06. This Skin