The point at which the experimental drops the ‘experi’ is a contentious issue. For some, the less coherent and linear music is, the better. For others, simply deviating from a 4/4 beat is an experience so baffling and frightening, it can cause actual bodily harm. For those “music fans” who regard Coldplay as sonic adventurers, Chopped and Screwed might not exactly be your cup of tea.
Micachu & The Shapes first piqued critical attention with their 2009 LP Jewellery, a brilliantly rough-hewn, avant-garde foray into the world of pop, and a debut which immediately established the group’s mastermind and lead vocalist, Mica Levi, as a formidable talent, with a penchant for labyrinthine compositions. Classically trained at the prestigious Purcell School, and the daughter of professional musicians, Levi and her Shapes crafted an album that so skilfully trod the line between pop-euphoria and lo-fi chaos, only repeated, concentrated listening revealed the modest precocity and confounding virtuosity of the album’s composer.
Rather than opting to release another pop masterpiece, and cement their standing as pinnacles of the thinking music-fan’s reverence, Micachu & The Shapes’ sophomore effort is a classical collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, recorded live at a one-off performance in 2010 at King’s Place.
A homage to the Houston-born hip-hop technique of manipulating beats and tempo – synonymous with the consumption of “purple drank”, and made popular by DJ Screw in the 90s - Chopped and Screwed instantly gravitates to the woozier, more somnolent end of the spectrum. Album opener ‘State of New York’ is loaded and smothering, the swarthy tonality slowly making way for the percussive groove of ‘Unlucky’, where haunting scrapes, saws and scratches of home-made instrumentation support Levi’s disarticulated vocals like a bed of nails.
‘Everything’ and ‘Low Dogg’ are arguably the standout tracks of the album – the former harking back to the string-heavy dirge of Jewellery’s ‘Just In Case’ – elevating the tempo before Levi’s syrupy vocals pour themselves across an elegantly simple verse. ‘Low Dogg’ additionally plays on Levi’s knack for crafting melody, the school-yard calls clashing uneasily with distorted bass and yelping strings. ‘Medicine Drank’ and ‘Average’ are blurry, warped, admirable examples of Screw’s punch-drunk hook, Levi’s hand-made rotating ‘chopper’ mimicking a carousing turntable, propelling the record into a stumbling, cyclical, undulant close with ‘Not So Sure’.
Undue criticism may fall at this record’s feet, simply as a result of its challenging nature: fleeting is the evidence of Levi’s acute pop instincts, the trio rather evincing their loftier, more left-field approach to composition. Conceptual to the end, and faithfully executed, Chopped and Screwed is an absolute triumph – and not the easiest of listens: however, if you’re in search of the latter, you might want to pay Robson and Jerome a visit instead.