Album Review: black midi – Cavalcade
Aran Grover reviews Black Midi’s second album Cavalcade
Eagerly anticipating the return of the mystical, elusive, BRIT School four-piece, black midi, suddenly, as if plucked from a Boschian nightmare, comes the single John L. A tantalizingly maniacal, intensely chromatic track, echoing the previous intensity of the band’s 2019 debut Schlagenheim. Following this maddeningly creepy single comes two more, each demonstrating this new, more refined sound, a natural progression from the raw and messy noise of Schlagenheim. With a greater emphasis on the jazz influences and combining the energy of the noise with pretty melodies, this set of 8 tracks proves the band’s capacity to innovate further. Though the debut itself was a refreshingly strong, cohesive record, it seems now wild and untamed in wake of the controlled madness and beauty of Cavalcade.
Though the album has its furiously messy moments, there is a balance with some genuinely beautiful tracks that went amiss on the debut. While the album opens with John L, its abrupt end brings with it the quietly beautiful Marlene Dietrich. Singer Geordie Greep here opts for a deep, crooning vocal delivery, reminiscent of Scott Walker or Richard Hawley. The oddly sexual lyrics create a droll juxtaposition with the serene sincerity of the beautiful music. The music itself sounds like a Richard Hawley cut, with lush, picked guitar chords and ethereal pad synths. Next, we hear the last single, Chondromalacia Patella, known simply as ‘Chondro’, a progressive, jazzy, high energy, rhythmic track, laced with jagged guitar work and impressively technical drum passages, which in turn litter the whole album. With a beautifully twinkly B-section, this provides an energetic contrast to the aggressively jagged main riff, as the Greep sings of pink mould and other signs of a failing knee muscle, an oddly specific yet entirely fitting topic for such an eccentric record.
blending the band’s rhythmic complexity and sophistication with compelling melodies and fascinating sonics
After this, the album goes into the second single, Slow. With an aggressively jagged beginning, a familiar sound to any fans of Schlagenheim. The song is a musical odyssey, taking cues from the bands’ previous work and infusing elements of jazz and fusion music to create a near cinematic, fast-paced, hauntingly beautiful piece of music. Lyrically, the song speaks to a generation waiting, “I guess I’ll wait…” echoing throughout the track, along with the repeated use of “Slowly”; it speaks to those waiting inside, those waiting for the world to start again.
Moving on to Diamond Stuff comes a respite from the intensity of the previous two tracks. Beginning with an eerie, solitary guitar plucking, the track feels as if it belongs in a western. The suspense of it would not go amiss as two gunslingers stare each other down, hands hovering over weapons, tensely awaiting the draw. The track takes a turn into a more relaxed state however, and brings down the suspense. Greep doesn’t sing on this track, it is the bassist Matt, who’s downtrodden vocals imply a shyness, and create an irritating inaudibility. This is also the case on Slow, however, the timbre of his singing fits the tracks well. The slow addition of drums, strings, and synths on this track are reminiscent of Amnesiac-era Radiohead, however the track has a consistent build, and a balanced beauty to it, not going too hard, laced with soft, choral backing vocals, preceding the energy to come.
A slick transition follows and we are greeted by the highly anticipated Dethroned. It begins relatively quietly, with a slick drum passage and a tempting guitar line. This is followed by some lushly distorted guitar with some fantastic chord changes as Greep’s delivery intensifies. The controlled build of this track is perhaps one of the finer moments on the record, blending the band’s rhythmic complexity and sophistication with compelling melodies and fascinating sonics before a crescendo providing a satisfying conclusion to the track.
The penultimate track Hogwash and Balderdash is as quirky and weird as its title. It is messy, eclectic, and almost jarring, perhaps the most reminiscent of the debut record. The main riff is intercut with various passages which are so characteristic of the record, containing almost circus-like melodies and simply strange sounds. One can tell the band had fun with this track, it being one of the most unique tracks full of character. It ends abruptly with an incomplete synth crescendo, cut short as we enter the final track.
Ascending Forth begins quietly, just Greep and his guitar. It is a rambling, progressive cut, 9 minutes in length. It captivates with intriguing melody, reminiscent of Esperanza Spalding even. It has the structure of a narrative track, calling back to progressive rock heroes of the 60s and 70s, the lyrics tell a tale of a man in a creative rut, resorting to ascending fourths each time he tries to write, perhaps autobiographical? It is a highlight on the record, and a fitting conclusion to an ambitious second album, a distinct refinement of the jagged, noisiness of Schlagenheim, introducing a new, structured beauty, yet still teetering on the edge of madness.
While this album is a clear improvement on the previous, and it met all of the high expectations I had for it, I am still left wanting more. It leaves me imagining what the band are truly capable of, this still feels like it is only the beginning. Ascending Forth and Slow particularly demonstrate their ability to fuse the beauty of their slower and quieter cuts with the raucous energy of their more aggressive and fast paced numbers with a conclusive crescendo, ending this chapter of the black midi odyssey, which I’m sure will reach some exciting heights in the future, and I, like many others eagerly await this future, but in the meantime, we are left with Cavalcade, which is hardly lamentable.