My relationship with pop music is a tenuous one. Where
others hear teenage symphonies to God, I tend to hear post-adolescents going
through the motions. It is one thing when you are young; epiphany comes through
emulation, but after a certain point I want to hear what you have to say as
oppose to what you've heard all these years. Pop music, in general practice,
falls into the realm of echo, sounds only changing on the rebound because of
the distance between you and the chasm walls. Sure it's escapist, and who doesn't
want an easy escape now and again, but spending all your time on escape is like
living on vacation. At some point, you have to be at home.
So, when I hear something that registers as pop music, yet
it operates on a different frequency, is built of different stuff, it softens
my resolve against the stuff. Black Dice has always hit me this way. Their
spark-infused rattles and hums are at worst an alien approximation of more
terrestrial pop, and at best, the chants of a new tribe. Repo
is immediately less abrasive than past efforts by the band; "Nite Creme"
lurches and struts around the idea of new wave swagger without becoming that
exact thing, which is interesting but not quite the Zarathustra disco moment I'm
after. Nor is the AfroBeat influenced "Glazin"
or the elfin hip-hop beat-tinkering in "Earnings plus Interest." It's all good
stuff, mind you, even weird stuff, but I'm starting think Black Dice's
spaceship has landed.
Then, the plodding pop colossus in "Idiots Pasture" appears
over the horizon. It churns and crunches
the last vestiges of a melody and a low human mumble into atomic particles and
then rearranges them into a song isotope, perhaps by the use of high-powered
magnets. Or Crowley magick. Something. Whatever the means, it's getting good.
By the ninth track "Ten Inches" semblances between regular music are only
implied by the mind trying to rectify the racket being offered. "Chicken Shit"
is that, but in dub.
"Vegetable" finds the invaders trying to go acoustic, which
is a nice break from the sonic vivisection that preceded it, and follows it on
the zombie slump of "Urban Supremist" and the groovy public flogging "Ultra Vomit
Craze" inflicts upon you. Here this record presents its soul, an R&B groove
inundated by a life that eschews R&B's unnatural smoothness. "Urban Vomit Craze" is fundamentally jagged
and hollow, with ghosts of raging inventors howling about their past failures
echoing from within, and this anguish only serves to bolster the robot funk on
the surface. In other words, it is the machine improving on the hallmarks of
the creator, willfully discarding the parts that don't work and focusing on the
parts that do. It is difficult stuff,
perhaps a little torturous, but when the loop reaches then end of its run, I
wish it had kept going.
Micachu & the Shapes
So OK, maybe you want to push the envelope of pop without
destroying it. I can respect that, I guess. If so, Jewellery by Micachu & the Shapes will be your new favorite
CD. "Vulture" opens this with a clatter
of bedspring percussion and icy synths, and Micachu's not-quite-tuneless chant.
These are traits that will continue throughout the record. The melody sometimes
sounds like it was played on a shoebox strung with rubber bands; the recording
done in a slightly larger box, yet despite all this, it is ridiculously
infection. "Lips" will have you doing
some hyperkinetic variant of the twist in your seat; "Sweetheart" will draw you
in like the drunken sing-along of mutant squatters. It is so far, my pop record of 2009.
Like the taste of wasabi or the weather in the Pacific Northwest,
once you are acclimated to the repellent aspects of Jewellery, you will find
its quirks comforting. "Curly Teeth" is a punk-folk anthem, strummed out on a
guitar tuned to the key of Zero, dressed up with squeaks and giant machine hum.
It is weird as hell and you will love it, and if you don't, then you have no
business in this part of town and better head back to the safety of your
"Golden Phone" is your reward for making it this far, an
innocuous, vaguely Caribbean confection, only falling off its beat at one point
to make sure you are paying attention. This
is good, because following it "Ship" takes you through the most difficult
terrain so far. "Floor" is as close a ballad as you are gonna get here,
sounding like a lo-fi teenage Nico intoning I'm
wearing my expressionist face, bought lots of things to replace you. This easy readability is shocking; up to
this point I haven't really had any idea what she was going on about, and with
that, it opens up the whole record again. I feel the love songs at the heart of
all this artpop echoing in the robo-Flamenco "Just in Case" when she sings it will probably come out a jumble of words.
That is the real expressionist face of love; it never comes out groomed like a
Marvin Gaye song. Those R&B dudes
have a team of people behind them approximating love by refining it. Micachu is
like us in that it sounds jumbled and a little busted and is all the more
endearing because of it.
This is celebrated by the twisted "Tequila" variant "Calculator"
- dizzying, difficult to follow, relentless, practically stream-of-consciousness
pillow-fight music. Its madness is so entrancing I don't even know what I'm saying anymore, much less what they
are saying. All I know is, I love it, and maybe a month from now I won't even
remember their name, but I'll remember how experience of listening to it made
me feel airy and joyous and slightly transformed, and that, I suppose, is the
real truth in pop music.