5 out of 5
Produced by: Steve Price (recorded by, mixed by)
My brain would really like to be able to classify Mica Levi. There is almost no other artist that has the varying effect and appeal upon me as her range of styles. It’s not polarizing – I’ve experienced that, and it’s perhaps easier to bucket because it’s between extremes – nor is it without thematic links, even from her raucous and atonal works with The Shapes to the restrained and nigh-traditional beauty of her score for 2016’s Jackie. It’s rather that those musical themes – simplified as an embrace of opposites – can, for me, completely work or miss the mark, but create this world of difference between those, to the extent that one merits endless relistens, and the other potentially instantly bores. But, even beyond individual tastes, if a listener with similar preferences to my own had a mixed and matched listing of what thrilled and bored, I would instantly understand.
I suspect that’s because there’s a lot of theory driving Levi’s compositions, no matter how sloppy seeming or, at first glance, generic.
Jackie is comparatively lush to the stripped down Under the Skin, though still fairly bare, working with focused strings and keys. The moods are distinct, though: Jackie Kennedy’s world was public facing, whether during happy or tragic times; there’s a slight – I’d imagine purposeful – shallowness to the music’s beauty, which is then subtly (and later more obviously) corrupted by darker themes. But regardless of how you read it, Levi’s music takes us on a journey, a flash of time in someone’s life; this truly feels like the soundtrack in our heads – dancing around thoughts and emotions, but never quite giving us the distinct theme of a Hollywood moment. It’s real: melody hummed to oneself, always present, but then also private.
Where Under the Skin’s sound was rather oppressive, Jackie’s score feels more questioning, shifting from certainty to a lack of that as the aforementioned darkness seeps into its patient and haunting compositions.
It is one if Levi’s most striking albums, and indicative of her natural ability to mash together opposing sounds and find rhythm, and yet, despite this suggesting Jackie as full of strange sounds, it has the air of a classic Hollywood score.