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 records aren’t out here yet, but will be soon — an EP this month and a full-length coming in January, both on Ninja Tune’s new imprint, Counter Records.
For now, you must take yourself to www.MySpace.com/poplevi 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 kinda 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, ’cause 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 à 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.
Anyway, Pop, I was saying that your music seems to carry the DNA of all rock & pop music in its veins, but it’s different — very much 2006.
“Yeah, man. I wanted it to sound like hip-hop.”
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 in Liverpool.
“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 electronica. 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 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.
Pop’s got more than 19,000 hits on his MySpace page so far, with almost zero publicity. “In the U.K., it’s beginning to get to like what I want it to be, but over here we get people who turn up and they know all the words to the songs, just from MySpace. I’m like, wow . . .”
He hasn’t made the big splash in NME, but if he makes it in the U.S., then “I do think the NME would cover it in a second.” He laughs.
What’s Pop’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.
Pop Levi will perform live Aug. 5 at the Knitting Factory; Aug. 8 at Little Temple; and Thurs., Aug. 31 at the Echo. Levi’s Blue Honey EP is out Aug. 28 on Counter Records.