As anyone who has been subjected to the plodding forays into classical experimentation by the likes of Deep Purple will be aware, mixing guitar licks with traditional orchestration can produce muddled results. And with classical music still often regarded as the exclusive domain of the privileged, it’s not uncommon to see the likes of Kasabian recruiting string sections as a lazy, grandiose shortcut for genuine innovation.
Micachu & The Shapes, though, are never ones to aim for the obvious jugular, as they prove with Chopped & Screwed, their live collaboration with the London Sinfonietta ensemble. With singer and composer Mica Levi classically trained at the prestigious Purcell School before turning to wonky avant-garde pop with debut album Jewellery, there’s little danger of her simply rehashing previous output with some lush arrangements haphazardly blended into the mix.
Instead, Chopped & Screwed is unmistakeably a Micachu & The Shapes record despite the input of the Sinfonietta. Tracks such as Unlucky or Average retain the percussive element of Jewellery, albeit with all manner of eerie scraping and clanging flourishes haunting the background. On the latter, in particular, Levi’s voice breaks uncontrollably and unsettlingly, sounding nightmarishly claustrophobic in the process.
With its title in homage to the technique of remixing beats in Southern US hip hop that was synonymous with the consumption of cough syrup – or ‘purple drank’ – Levi’s lyrics take on a hazy, substance-altered hue. Medicine Drank is a blurry account of a night on the town with flickering lights and woozy sounds as "gold glistens in slow motion", while Low Dogg offers an endless trap of booze addiction that can only be ended by fulfilling her violent request to "twist my neck until I snap".
Rather than paying lip-service to Levi’s classical grounding, then, Chopped & Screwed is more similar to a sidewalk mixtape: tracks blend into one another seamlessly, shifting sound patterns are frequently repeated and the tempo slows to crawling pace one second before hurtling along at breakneck speed the next. It may only be a stopgap before the official follow-up to Jewellery, but like all the best mixtapes, it’s a telling insight into its creator’s unconventional mind.