We’re breaking our Soundcloud/Bandcamp only rule for this one. Black Midi are currently the hippest band in the UK. They have been a hot topic for a while now. Their previously elusive live appearances, unknown track names, and general lack of information around them or recordings created a mystique that led to a huge buzz. Their debut album Schlagenheim arrived this month on Rough Trade, accompanied by sold out shows around the UK and an extensive world tour.
Black Midi, for a band still in their teens, sound very mature at times, at others like they’re pulling everyone’s leg.
This, along with the mood and sophistication of their music suggest they could be perhaps considered as this generation’s Slint. No small praise.There are elements of noise rock, post-rock, Krautrock, prog, jazz, synth pop and shoegaze mangled into their unpredictable and explosive sound.
Opening track 953 is brutal. Built on a frantic guitar part, a gnarled and twisted breakdown and riffing that pauses only for screeching feedback courtesy of Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin, who frequently adds interesting textures throughout the album. This eventually gives way to space and subtlety when Geordie Greep’s rather unique vocal delivery, at times like a cartoonish David Byrne, introduces itself alongside an almost Jeff Buckley-esque sense of tension and atmosphere in the production, only coming from a weirder place. They then blast off, eventually using the intro as an outro but gradually slow it down.
Black Midi equally revel in repetition and chaos.
Speedway is based around a repetitive chord, strange vocal effects, interesting wah guitar parts underneath, and superb glitchy drums. Elements akin to Tortoise or Cornelius.
Reggae must be named ironically. The, at times, almost drum and bassy expressive drumming of Morgan Simpson (a constant highlight), Greep’s bizarre vocals and the drama they create are the antithesis of Reggae.
Near DT, MI, one of the shortest and most pointed tracks on Schlagenheim, kicks off at 100mph. There’s a great sense of darkness and tension to this critique of the controversial change in water supply in Flint, Michigan. Cameron Picton’s vocals become increasingly erratic. The guitars, as the song crescendos sound so sharp they could almost decapitate you. The spikey evil akin to some of the truly gross sounds on Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible.
Eight minute centrepiece Western is a moment of relative calm, yet this doesn’t permeate through the whole eight minutes.
It almost veers on 80s synth pop at points, with the bombast of Lift To Experience at others. Just when you think you know where it’s going it veers off somewhere else but is generally harnessed by a more expansive and less chaotic vision. It’s the closest they get to normality.
Of Schlagenheim opens with weird delayed guitars, the lyrics throughout almost indistinguishable. This features some of their most awesome, yet bizarre and wonky grooves. Greep’s Shrieking vocals and the multiple sections mark Black Midi out as probably the weirdest but most acceptable of prog bands. To complete perhaps the most satisfying segment of the album this segues into the unsettling and utterly brilliant first single bmbmbm, with its creepy effected samples of a woman ranting, the one note bass groove reminiscent of Shellac, spoken vocals and violent intersections that eventually reach the point of frenzy.
Years Ago features bizarre slide guitars which hark back to the more lively latter stages of the Magic Band.
Closer Ducter brings back the simple repetition with its Don Cabellero style guitar loops before dropping into a very Slint-like build up (think Don, Aman from Spiderland and you’re pretty close). Geordie Greep’s powerful voice soars into shouting jibberish before everything explodes and crashes back to earth, where we started. A warped vocal effect flips things back into gear, the band’s last display of their raw power.
Black Midi are truly unique and Schlagenheim, whilst perhaps not completely accessible to all, deserves the attention it has garnered. If this isn’t right at the top of a lot of end of year lists we’ll be very surprised.
You may enjoy this if you like: Don Cabellero, Slint, Shellac, Stump, James Chance, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band