black midi - Schlagenheim
The latest buzz-band/hype-band/noise-band/whatever-you-wanttocallit-band exploding out of the UK is here - and whether you love it or hate it, you need to hear it.
The incredibly frantic, intentionally sloppy, wildly ambitious, and spastic black midi is making massive headway with their debut album Schlagenheim - one of the most impressive debut albums in the last five years.
Taking the road less traveled, black midi built their name on the back of an electric live show, while releasing no music. The quartet looks fresh out of high school (they are), and their bodies spasm during different parts of their live show, the band is uniquely anti-mainstream, exploring large noisy passages, freeform ideas, and refusing to stick to a time-signature for long.
On the surface, black midi is a music nerd’s wet dream. Their sound borrows from jazz, swing, and nu-wave, while being largely centered around math-rock patterings. Frankly, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe the noisy landscape of the band and the eerie, squealing vocals of the babyfaced Geordie Greep.
While the fusion of the band’s talents are clearly in sync, it’s drummer Morgan Simpson that is the anchor, pushing the pace and pulling the listener forward relentlessly. Whenever you get comfortable in one of his infectious grooves, the feedback fades back in and the frenzy begins.
Schlagenheim is a powerful debut. While the band is still carving out its exact sound, the album is vital. Forget all the descriptions you’ve read about black midi - the band is playful. There is an undeniable playful looseness embedded throughout the entirety of Schlagenheim that grips you. A level of musical creativity reminiscent of the experimental rock band Battles, a jittery-ness like Queens of the Stone Age on speed, and a wacky factor the likes of the Talking Heads.
But alas, the album. Album opener “953” pushes the throttle to 10 right off the bat, summarizing what you’re in for quickly. It’s fast and all over the place, but like many of the tracks, it neatly falls into place without you noticing the shift. “953” (and Schlagenheim) is packed with intense creativity, and it sets a fuse that never stops burning for the next 43 minutes.
“Speedway” swells and throbs without ever detonating, morphing into “Reggae” where Greep channels his inner Alex Turner. The band slaps us back to attention during “Near DT, MI”, with an intro like a demonized “Sick, Sick, Sick.” The tune is the most conventional one on Schlagenheim, and bassist Cameron Picton takes the mic and unleashes an unexpected scream with an intense and cathartic sound that pushes the track into quintessential black midi chaos. Its ability to focus throughout allows it to be the most potent tune on the album, and it’s no surprise that means it’s also the shortest.
There are calm parts on this album. “Western” kicks off with mellow guitar picking, while “Of Schlagenheim” stretches past six-minutes long, buoyed by an elongated drum and distorted bass solo - one-part jazz one-part post-punk one-part funk. Yep.
But it's during “bmbmbm” that the empty space created by black midi paradoxically grabs your attention. A welcome respite after a densely packed six songs previous, and Greep’s repetitive lyrics and skittish delivery are truly special. Sliding into a fiery breakdown with off-note screams with a bite, it’s fitting the track was their first single.
Are there flaws on this record? Yes. Across the album, it’s clear that black midi has work to do in tightening up their exact identity, some passages that can be cut, and oddly even some patterns in the disorder that wear thin. There’s a lack of any real lyrical depth or overt themes. However, Schlagenheim is intentionally imperfect, powerfully so, a controlled chaos that represents one of the most essential recordings of the year.