Pop Star cometh ÐÐ 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
and Never, Never Love are out on Ninja Tune's imprint Counter Records. Take
yourself too to www.MySpace.com/poplevito 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
real...country, 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 ˆ 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
ÐÐ "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
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 ÐÐ 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.