Published Sep 11, 2015In an industry bursting at the seams with "geniuses" and "wunderkinds," Mica Levi is the real deal. The experimental musician and composer composed her first song at age four, wrote an orchestra piece for the London Philharmonic at age 21, released her first acclaimed full-length record with her band Micachu and the Shapes the following year and, in 2013, composed the haunting and award-winning score for the critically acclaimed film Under the Skin. Now, at the ripe old age of 28, Levi has linked up with the Shapes again and released the band's third full-length record, Good Sad Happy Bad. The album's title is analogous to how the reader will feel listening to it; it's a decidedly mixed bag.
Album opener "Sad" starts promisingly with a bouncy, ESG-styled beat, but quickly grows leaden as Levi tonelessly intones: "Wanna feel sad / Wanna feel sad" above it, ad nauseum. The record continues to meander in this fashion: the songs are minimal and more or less tuneless, leaving me to wonder if this was a deliberate choice by the band, or the product of a quarter-life crisis. The song "Thinking It" marks the midway point of the album, and it's the only track that even remotely approaches the buoyancy and manic delirium of hit single "Calculator," from the band's magnificent 2009 debut, Jewellery. Good Sad Happy Bad then continues its plod forward, with a brief dreamy respite in the bright synths of "Peach," and finally concludes with "Suffering", an off-key dirge on which a lethargic and lovelorn Levi slurs: "It's only suffering / That keeps my conscience clean."
Good Sad Happy Bad may be trying to replicate the highs and lows of the human condition, and if that's the case, they've definitely succeeded in making the listener feel as listless and depressed as the band themselves seem to be. Regardless of the intent though, this record feels decidedly phoned in, and coming from one of Britain's greatest young musicians, that's the real bummer. (Rough Trade)