Release Date: May 28, 2021
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Math Rock
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.
There were many directions Black Midi could have taken to move forward from their acclaimed debut, 2019's Schlagenheim. The sense of mystery surrounding the London-bred post-punks hasn't waned since they burst onto the scene only a few years ago; since then, thousands of people in subreddits and Facebook groups have treated every move the band makes as an Easter egg. This pressure cooker resulted in a record moulded by fresh influences that doesn't sacrifice what made Black Midi so captivating in the first place. The band's exploration of harmonics and addition of saxophone and keys shows their dexterity as songwriters across many genres.
Not content with simply opening the gates, they completely destroyed them. Leaving in the trailing smoke ample room, ready for the likes of Squid , Fontaines DC and Black Country, New Road to blossom in the column space and the online discussion/music meme community (@Schlagenmemes being a 6,000-follower-strong page dedicated entirely to Midi). Not bad for four geeky London BRIT-school graduates.
Let's start with the ending, an orchestral finale so grand it might as well come with a title card attached: That's all, folks! The last two chords of Cavalcade, black midi's second album, form a harmonic exclamation point that would have been recognizable to listeners even centuries ago, indicating that it was time to pack up their opera glasses and head home. After the previous 40 minutes of Cavalcade, an avant-rock labyrinth of maddening intricacy, navigated without any such conventional signposts, this is a perverse way to wrap things up. Arriving with an abrupt cut from the full band's pummelling and caterwauling, the gesture's familiarity makes it unsettling, surreal, like the punchline to an obscure joke.
All dadaist pom poms, no glee Black Midi are a fiercely proficient group of competent songwriters and talented musicians. Good for them! They're at the head of a wave of bands reskinning the ethos of experimental post-punk for a modern audience, and they frankly deserve to be there on both their own merits and the sketchy standard of competition. Their sound always seemed distinctly theirs despite how liberally they've spaded from the pantheon of jank-creep-rock cult classics (see: Recommended albums).
I've often wondered if it's harder for bands to write, and record, their second album or their first. For some bands it's all done and dusted on the first, other groups only start to find their feet by their third. Others gets lost and rehash their debut. One band who certainly haven't got lost, or made the same album again, is black midi.