May 28, 2021
By Scott Dransfield
The music video for “Ducter,” the closing track on black midi’s 2019 debut Schlagenheim, featured prominent visuals of recognizable images like cities and classical portraits melting into digital oblivion. It was a fitting visual metaphor for the band’s approach on that album: familiar instrumentation and identifiable influences, blown up in a destructive, thrashy blur. It was one of the most audacious debuts in years, but it left the question: where could black midi go from there? With their sophomore release, Cavalcade, they confidently show us exactly where. Taking an opposite approach than Schlagenheim, its eight tracks all construct elaborate structures, utilizing each chaotic moving part to build toward moments of staggering impact. In nearly every conceivable way, it’s a level up for rock’s most exciting young group.
The most noticeable change across Cavalcade is that these are songs that are about things—usually troubled characters. Lead single and first track “John L” makes this forcefully clear: it’s a chronicle of a cult leader who inspires a feverish scene but is quickly turned upon by his followers. This track, as well as “Chondromalacia Patella” (about the visceral pain experienced when healing from an injury), “Hogwash and Balderdash” (a tale of two brutish brothers), and to a lesser extent “Dethroned’’ and the enigmatic “Slow,” hew closest to the sonic assault of Schlagenheim. They also recall classic ’70s prog, like Genesis and particularly King Crimson, in that even without poring over lyrics, a listener can pick up on conceptual themes and motifs. This is, again, a surprising and impressive move given the impenetrable nature of the jam-based avant-garde compositions on black midi’s debut.
But perhaps even more surprising than these epics are the moments when black midi aims directly for softness and beauty. The effect of “John L”’s chaos leading right into the ballad-esque “Marlene Dietrich” is ridiculously exciting. That track, a ponderance on the underappreciated power of the titular 1920s/1930s actress/singer, recalls Van Morrison’s more elaborate compositions and features near-crooning by frontman Geordie Greep, who has evolved into quite the charismatic bandleader, even without singing on two tracks. His companions, bassist Cameron Picton and drummer Morgan Simpson, meanwhile, are easily the most powerful rhythm section of the current wave of British post-rock bands. But on Cavalcade, it’s thrilling to see their powers push beyond the inventive creation of noise, towards dramatic and dynamic new heights. The subtle “Diamond Stuff” is the album’s most jaw-dropping piece (with closer “Ascending Forth” a close second), evoking Grizzly Bear and Swans in a journey to the glittering, mystical center of a buried diamond mine.
Black midi didn’t need to reach for the stars like this. Being capable players, and with such a lauded debut, they could have doubled down on the Schlagenheim style. And despite its enduring influence, heady prog isn’t exactly a popular indie rock direction. But the confidence and style with which black midi has taken these risks has led to every gamble paying off. It’s hard to imagine any rock album this year beating Cavalcade in pure genius. (www.bmblackmidi.com)
Author rating: 9/10
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