Micachu & The Shapes’ return, three years after the release of their last record Never, is almost an accident: the trio of friends decided to rehearse in an East London studio, and found themselves immersed into an hours-long jam. Drummer Marc Pell had an Edirol field recorder in hand, and unbeknownst to his bandmates, recorded the whole session; Pell, Mica Levi, and Raisa Khan were so enamored of those off-the-cuff audio experiments that they became the underpinnings of a new record.
“For me it’s the most free we have been,” Levi explains. Rather than showing up to the studio with songs written out, the trio started with a collaborative improvisation, from which Levi chose sections to develop into songs, writing lyrics to the entire record “non-stop, in one avalanche.” With one listen, it’s easy to hear why they loved the tracks. Good Sad Happy Bad maintains the experimental-pop sensibility the band has brought to previous efforts, combining the lightness and bounce of their best singles with the sonic textures of field recordings, industrial effects alongside straightforward instrumentation. Levi’s affected vocals eschew easily readable emotional tone, instead relying on quixotic lyricism, repetition, and immersion into the song’s landscape, to evoke warmly – rather than show – the sentiments underpinning the songs.
The record’s irrepressible energy, across both the upbeat and a handful of sadder songs, seems to be a direct result of the live recording process. “Jams are really quite a healthy release, it’s a way of getting stuff out without consciously thinking about it or making decisions,” says Khan. Conversely, because the band worked out the final mixes together over a number of months – rather than in a traditional, multi-track studio over a shorter period – Pell found a new degree of creativity. “I think the best drum part I have ever written is the stick-clicking at the beginning of ‘Peach’ – a moment, he explains, that he wouldn’t have been able to notice without the luxury of seeing the recorded tracks as more than simply songs, but as collections of sonic ideas.
In the years since the band’s last work together, Mica Levi has been the youngest person ever to be an Artist in Residence at The Southbank Centre and her star in the world of modern composition has also risen, largely as a result of her work on Jonathan Glazer’s standout 2014 film, Under the Skin, whose eerie depth is due in part to Levi’s precise, otherworldly score, for which she won a European Film Award and was nominated for a BAFTA.
Glazer contacted Levi in 2012, after music supervisor Peter Raeburn played him part of Chopped & Screwed, Micachu & The Shapes’ 2011 live collaboration with the London Sinfonietta which saw her uniquely combine her background in classical music with her passion for hip hop and self-made instruments. Speaking to Pitchfork, Glazer remembers: “[Music supervisor Peter Raeburn] played me some [known] film composers, but I thought this film would require a new voice. I heard ten seconds of [Chopped & Screwed] and said, ‘Stop the tape, use that.’” While she continues to work on composition projects, Levi welcomes a return to the more “social, physical” experience of being in a touring band.