We first noticed Pop Levi back in June of last year, when he cleverly posted a pair of clips on YouTube of himself and a bandmate, each playing half of his song Semi-Babe. It was cute, but it’s the kind of idea that someone burdened with rational thinking might call bad. It was the opposite of user-friendly. You had to synch the two clips up just right, or else it sounded like dogshit; not a great first impression for a developing artist. It wasn’t necessarily an effective promotional package, but it was a surprise, something different. Though I was the one who wrote about the stunt here, I personally never made it to the chorus. But at least Pop Levi had made it onto my radar.
Ironically, while a Johnny and a few other friends that had come across him (through Antiquiet or otherwise) really got into his music, I took him for little more than a gimmick, a nutty gypsy with some goofy songs. Later, I caught his self-made video for You Don’t Gotta Run, and again, didn’t make it to the chorus. The strangeness, seemingly for strangeness’ sake, was just a bit overwhelming.
But his name kept popping up. And every time it did, more and more people in the room would rave. So I sat down with his newest album, Never Never Love and gave it a chance. And it clicked.
Pop Levi is a true artist. But not the sort that he seems to be at first, with his head up his own ass, recording obnoxious noises and calling it art. His bio is full of quotes from way out in left field, such as “we were trying to make something that was truly astral... I wanted to make astral pop music.” Usually when an artist says some shit like that, it tells me that they have no real talent or drive to hone their craft, preferring instead to just smoke lots and lots of pot, “communicate” with silly instruments, record eight minutes of improv butthole noise, telling you that you “just don’t get it” when you… well, just don’t get it.
Fortunately for everyone, Pop Levi is an exception. It seems as if he doesn’t think twice before beginning a song- on paper, most of them seem too innocent and even almost immature to have been written in a world where anyone other than Levi exists. This approach is generally either really great, or really bad. It’s honest, so it means that you’re not hiding any of your faults, and you’re not milking any of your little tricks. Since most artists need to do one or the other to get by, it only works in rare cases.
But Pop Levi has got the talent, and music in his soul. Never Never Love is thirteen (or fourteen, depending on which version you have) of the catchiest pop songs since Gnarls Barkley’s debut single. For weeks now, i’ve been playing the living shit out of it, along with Portugal. The Man’s Censored Colors.
Semi-Babe and You Don’t Gotta Run are actually two of my favorite songs on the album now that I’ve made it past the first deceptive verses. There’s an infectious song called Love You Straight that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before; it actually backs up that ridiculous ‘astral music’ quote- it sounds like it was created by aliens. But the Earthling song construction is flawless and the vocal melodies deftly weave in and out, hooking you at every turn. Pop Levi seems to be the missing link between the Beatles (see Calling Me Down) and Prince (see Everything & Finally).
Johnny and I headed up to the Troubadour here in LA on Friday to see Pop open for Gram Rabbit. We weren’t sure what to expect- we like our shows drenched with rock n’ roll, and Pop’s homemade videos portray a barefoot hippie staring creepily at a webcam. But his live set was exactly what you’d hope for after getting through the wrapping paper- it was fun. He broke a sweat, playing everything just a little bit harder as he wailed and threw himself around the stage. It was so good, we’re inviting him to play a little party we’re throwing in February; official announcement to come later this week.
Past all the crazy talk, there is one quote in Pop Levi’s bio that really resonates: “Too much music,” he says, “is too much fashion… It suggests you’re into what’s in and what’s out. Things that are truly in are forever in. If I make a good sandwich, you wouldn’t say ‘that’s retro,’ you’d say ‘that’s a good sandwich.’ Some things have an innate never-ending quality that’s always there. That’s why people will be buying T-shirts with John Lennon’s face on it long after Justin Timberlake.”
Well, I’ll be rocking Never Never Love for awhile.
Never Never Love
August 12, 2008
2. Never Never Love
3. Dita Dimoné
5. Fire On Your Feet
6. Mai’s Space
7. You Don’t Gotta Run
8. Oh God
9. Everything & Finally
10. Love You Straight
11. Call The Operator
12. Calling Me Down
13. Fountain Of Lies
More of our photos from Pop Levi’s Troubadour show can be found here.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.