The world has seen its fair share of mainstream artists try their hand at scoring films with varying degrees of success. Conversely, film composers sometimes have a hobby band on the side, playing rock or jazz or blues or pop just for the hell of it. But rarely do you find an artist who excels at both -- someone who intuitively understands composition and can push music created in the live band format forward.
Well, Mica Levi is that person. The classically-trained British artist first emerged as frontperson of the indie trio Micachu & the Shapes in the late '00s. Just a few years after establishing herself as a talent to watch on the under-the-radar scene, Levi went on to create the gorgeous, unsettling score for the sci-fi art film Under the Skin in 2013. Now, after crafting the understated, harrowing score for the Natalie Portman-starring Jackie O biopic Jackie, Mica Levi is something most musicians -- indie, mainstream, classical or otherwise -- only dream of: An Oscar nominee.
Her Jackie score, which is a rewarding listen even apart from the film, is up for Best Original Score at the 2017 Academy Awards. But unlike her other competitors -- all worthy talents in their own right -- Levi can claim an indie cool almost unheard of in the realm of Oscar-nominated composers.
Micachu and the Shapes' debut album, 2009's Jewellery, was a brittle, challenging yet insanely catchy collection of songs clocking in at just over 30 minutes (not including the lengthy gap between the last song and the bonus track – yes, long silences before bonus tracks were happening even as late as 2009). With its discordant tunings, conflicting melodies and the unusual background noises fading back and forth between right and left channels, it's a strange record that remains accessible and alluring thanks to a few selectively delivered bubblegum melodies (see: "Golden Phone") and angular riffs (see: "Lips").
Part of the thrill on Jewellery (and the band's other LPs) is the dichotomy between a professional sculpted album and an amateur sensibility. That's because while it sounds unrepentantly DIY in its delivery, the production and composition is actually quite complex. If the Shaggs had been classically trained but still played their instruments as bluntly as on Philosophy of the World, you might get something approaching the otherworldly garage-rock appeal of Jewellery.
Now, two Micachu albums and two film scores later, Mica Levi -- one of the most promising indie auteurs of the last 10 years -- is an Oscar-nominated composer. Whether she ends up focusing on one career over the other or effectively balances both remains to be seen. But undoubtedly, the world is a more interesting place for having someone whose musical talents are as suited to prestige biopics as DIY rock venues.