Ninja Tune have always been a label full of surprises. It has stretched and flexed to accomodate the ever increasing and varied tastes of its creators, but with Pop Levi they seem to have met their match. So they created a spin-off label just for him and give us the debut offering The Return To Form Black Magick Party. Only an artist of shameless arrogance could describe their debut as a return to form - and that's exactly what we have here. Born in London, Pop laid his early musical roots in Liverpool then moved to LA in pursuit of the 'magick' that he sees at the very heart of great music. Making up one third of free-thinking, post rock trio and fellow Ninja's Super Numeri, then playing bass for Ladytron Pop decided to go it alone and released his first EP "Blue Honey" on Counter Records in September last year. Then hot on its heals he gives us this. Mark Bolan is an instant point of recognition in Pop's sound but throughout this album we see glimpses of Prince, Dylan, Hendrix and even Jack White. But as with all quality music these influences, don't in any way confuse the sound that Pop has crafted for himself. That sound isn't easily explained as it keeps on changing. There's a very hand crafted feel to it with layers of acoustic and electric guitars punctuating washes of percussion, but this all often fed through some sort of machine and the Pop Levi sound is churned out the other side.
From the opening single, 'Sugar Assault Me Now,' it's quite clear that this is the doorway to a world far removed from our own. A world of astral energy where reality and disbelief are suspended and anything is possible. The first two tracks get things started at break-neck speed with a cacophony of stabbing guitars, fuzzy bass and more than enough hand claps. Things are taken down a notch with '(A Style Called) Cryin' Chic' with its folk blues meanderings over textured percussion. 'Skip Ghetto' shows Pop's sensitive side with a beautiful dreamy, acoustic little number only to be bitch slapped once again by the most Bolan of songs 'Dollar Bill Rock'.
The whole album follows this up and down formation, painting a very rich picture of this mans talents. It's contemplative and at the same time immensely uplifting. It's relaxing and floaty then foot tappingly addictive. It can appear to be conforming to every current fashion then rejecting it all in an instant. 'The Return To Form's' listening experience is just as up and down. On the first few plays it is thrilling and refreshing but I have to admit that the constant use of repetition in the lyrics does give it an air of emptiness. But hey it's pop music and not every moment has to move you to tears. There are plenty of moving moments here but most of them are on a level totally their own. The album makes you move and it makes you want to tell people about it. It oozes so much arrogance and confidence that it can only have been conceived by an artist with a very unique outlook on making music. It was a wise move for Ninja Tune to create an environment for this man to shine - as he has a lot to say and if this debut is anything to go by he has a myriad of ways to say it.