Bluefat Archive August 2006

DNA Mutation

Catch Liverpool's own Pop Levi before he spreads

Pop Star cometh no kiddin', a big one. Well, kinda small and reedy and darkly, hairily handsome, and, far more important, the maker of an odd brand of music that is sort of like every kind of great pop you ever heard all at once but never ever heard anything remotely like. And therein lies the magic.

It's not happened particularly fast, Pop Levi's ascent to glory from the fogs of Liverpool. Somewhere along the line, he got the opportunity to play bass for electronic-rock artistes Ladytron, and then the guy who wrote the songs for Ladytron heard Pop's solo stuff and put it on his own label, Invicta HiFi, and then the estimable DJ-type post-post-electronic label Ninja Tune heard that.

Pop took a long time recording his solo stuff. He needed certain sounds, needed to octuple-track guitars, pan them insanely, hire mini-orchestras. His two albums, The Return to Form Black Magick Party and Never, Never Love are out on Ninja Tune's imprint Counter Records. Take yourself too to ogle the goods.

Pop's got one little ditty called "Blue Honey" that starts not with a motorcycle rumble exactly, but rather a guitar's low strings slapping loosely around to introduce a wildly stereophonic, trance-inducing yet kind of ecstatic biker-rock meltdown whose sheer dense inventiveness and charmingly desperate attempts at cramming a thousand ideas into three minutes are brave, bold and beautiful.

But it's strange, because for another example, "(A Style Called) Cryin' Chic" is built on a guitar riff up and down that's, like George Harrison would ape Chet Atkins. Meanwhile, "I took my baby to the train (my baby's somewhat lame)" and "I asked my baby to kill for me/out of curiosity," whines a supercompressed Pop dryly and humorously la Dave Edmunds (whom he's never heard) on a mountaintop on Mars, where a dozen guitars pick and chicken-scratch and shimmer and shine and stroll and roll.

A four-steps-removed Zeppelin would seem to track "Mournin' Light," which has got those same double-tracked fuzzy guitars moving over flailingly tight drums as Pop squeezes his vocal lemon "Oh baby I long for you to steal the mournin' light." Intense, psychedelic, somehow funny, very rocking and just grand.

You're feeling the entire history of the best (or worst) of the past five decades' rock & roll, and you suspect that our brainy culprit's too young to have stolen from it directly. But somehow it seeped in.

Pop Levi has brought himself and his bandmates out to burn in the L.A. sun for an extended bit. This is Hollywood, after all; they've heard so much about it. And it was cold and damp in Liverpool.

Pop spent several years of his early adult life in Liverpool, "staying at home, smoking pot, listening to music and buying records, making records, playing 'em for friends." But there really wasn't any scene there, at least until the New York-L.A. rock "revival" came barreling through and terminated Merseyside.

"Then suddenly, within the last three years, everything that was happening in New York became our target. Suddenly there were loads and loads of bands; the U.K. had been at least 80 to 90 percent electronic music for a long time."

It's not that Pop is feeling backlashish toward electronic music. He just likes a lot of different stuff, and he don't much care for genre tags.

"I mean, I love Kraftwerk, and I like Stockhausen. I just don't like what some kid in a bedroom in Croydon has done. That's not Jimi Hendrix; I just don't get that from computer programmers."

In his search for really special effects, Pop has even recorded a track atop Liverpool Cathedral. "I didn't ask; they wouldn't have said yes. We used a 1962 plate reverb."

With his "regular"-type band of drums, bass, two guitars and vocals, Pop will now present live onstage his long-germinating solo material, and his idea is that "I'll try and make the most straight music with the weirdest twists." He will front said band with a maximum blast of great boyish charm and a rare kind of charisma that brings, well, a real authenticity to a music that's 10 galaxies removed from its apparent classic-rock sources.

What's Pop Levi's appeal? "I'm not saying something revolutionary or new or anything like that, but I wanted to come up with something more character-based. It's a lot more malleable, isn't it? And I want to be transported to, like, a thousand years that way or a thousand years that way or to Africa."

Mr. Levi would like to point out that while he didn't really grasp Dylan for years, he's now a rabid convert. And that his name, Pop, is Bob upside down.