Micachu specializes in making music out of bits and pieces of sound that by any conventional standards would be set aside. I guess you’d call this sampling, but these aren’t old soul hooks. They’re micro-scraps of noise—a discarded scream here (“Unity”), a recurring feedback beep here (“LA Poison”)—and when they cohere, the effect is both delightfully improbable and improbably delightful.
Micachu is the recording nom de plume of English musician Mica Levi, who by now has some well-established experimental cred. Her debut with The Shapes, 2009’s Jewellery, managed to combine bracing, lo-fi recording techniques, production by electronic wiz Matthew Herbert, and prominent use of the vacuum into a deceptively catchy set of material. More recently, Levi was tapped to compose a fittingly disturbing score for the 2013 film Under the Skin.
If Micachu’s latest, Good Sad Happy Bad, feels somewhat less deliberate, that’s because it is. The band was jamming mid-rehearsal when drummer Marc Pell spontaneously hit “Record”; the trio decided to use the resulting tracks as foundations for a new album. The songs are more obtuse, more gnarled than those on Jewellery or 2012’s Never. They’re spare, often demo-like in their skeletal scrapings. Guitars float in and out of tune, with Levi’s vocals a warbled mumble and few of the tracks passing the three-minute mark. “Thinking It” finds the vocalist reciting a spoken-word meditation on a morning jog over a 90-second guitar and organ burst. “Waiting,” the best of the 13, takes minimalism to an extreme, drawing out the scratchy qualities of Levi’s voice over a looping, four-note key pattern that sounds to be spliced from a children’s toy.
Elsewhere, Good Sad feels tentative and short on hooks. There are bits of the melodic clarity that has brought Micachu’s avant-pop to life in the past, but snippets like “Sea Air” and “Peach” fumble in search of purpose like the in-studio jams they are. “It’s only suffering / That keeps my conscience clean,” Levi sings on the closing “Suffering,” and that might well be an aesthetic judgment as much as it’s a moral one. Good Sad Happy Bad is a collection of intriguing sketches that might have been developed into a record; instead, they’re left to suffer in demo-like ambiguity.