ALBUM REVIEW: Black Midi – Cavalcade

Black Midi

Cavalcade

Rough Trade / Remote Control Records

The new wave of prodigious, forward-thinking and bold UK musicians continues unabated as we near the middle of 2021. With the underground jazz scene taking its divergent strands overground to international acclaim and songwriters and players of the experimental indie rock persuasion, who were barely born when Radiohead released OK Computer, soaking up and reimagining all manner of musical influences. Of the new breed that includes Black Country, New Road, Squid, Dry Cleaning and many more, Black Midi stand out as the band taking things deeper and further out towards the perimeter, with brazen musical leaps and bounds.

Their debut Schlagenheim caught the ear of critics and fans alike in 2019 but now, barely two years later, they’ve taken that dizzying debut and both expanded and refined it. Cavalcade delights in the way it embraces extremes. From the lush and baroque Marlene Dietrich and album closer Ascending Forth, which sound like Jeff Buckley workshopping with Wild Beasts and US band Young Jesus, singer Geordie Greep intones his obtuse and dramatic lyrics in a veritable croon, warm and resonant as it corrals the words into overtly expressive shapes. The aforementioned Radiohead are clear antecedents, especially on Diamond Stuff, both in their willingness to experiment and deconstruct the tenets of the rock band and in the way they combined sonic beauty and unsettling, dystopian landscapes in their music.

The flip side to those relatively elegant tracks is the blistering and precocious avant jazz funk, post-punk and prog barrages of opener John L, latest single Chondromalacia Patella, Slow and Hogwash and Balderdash. The precision, playfulness and downright exhilaration of the way they’ve constructed these tracks is both bewildering in their dizzying execution and wholly listenable, even as power metal guitars spiral frenetically toward the sun. Morgan Simpson’s hyper-speed drums start and stop on a dime and the bass playing of Cameron Picton runs from tangled Flea meets Gang Of Four funk to nimble and melodic rhythmic beds. These kinetic explosions are meant to be heard loud, as visceral experiences.

The band describe the songs as a cavalcade of characters passing one-by-one through the album. In lesser hands that may not work but the range and depth of personality Black Midi apply to these individuals means the listener is left with the quirks and dynamism of them burnt into their short term memory. 

Maybe it’s a result of the way emerging artists discover and explore musical influences these days, or that in the current phase of contemporary music, collage is the most valued and sought after currency. Regardless, adventurism and proficiency is clearly leading the way with this generation of UK artists and it’s the pure thrill of Black Midi’s organic and kaleidoscopic, kosmiche art-rock that makes Cavalcade a landmark album for these times.

Chris Familton

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