black midi – Cavalcade

Cavalcade

black midi

2021 • ROCK/EXPERIMENTAL • ROUGH TRADE

8.0

black midi’s second record shows the English rock band going even bolder on their sound: their lyrics are more elaborate, their sound more visionary, and the full package seems prettier and deeper.

In April 2019, someone posted a totally distorted photo on Twitter that made no sense to anyone. There were clearly objects there, but no matter how hard your brain tried, you would never be able to identify what was going on there. For some researchers, the image did not make sense at all, being created only to generate discomfort in those who saw it. For others, it was just an experiment that showed how the brain always struggled to find familiar patterns where there is no. Or yet, like a user on Reddit said, the photo was intended to simulate a stroke. But, in all of these cases, something uncomfortably strange and curious arose within you looking at the photo.

The cover of the second album of the English rock band black midi is just like this image, strangely intriguing, a meaningless mess, curiously uncomfortable, and somehow cathartic. These features are passed on to the entire album, an energizing and expressive project that probes the deepest points of the human soul and its insides, context, concerns, and fears. “People seemed to really like the debut album but after a while, we all became pretty bored with it… So, it was like: this time let’s make something that is actually good,” guitarist Geordie Greep told The Quietus about the 2019’s schlagenheim’s successor. However, even though Cavalcade is not totally impressive and (very) different from the rest, it has delirious and passionate moments of immersion and glory that go to the depths of the soul and nudge the listener’s feelings as a provocative catalyst. In the middle of some not-so-deep moments, the band sinks your head to the bottom. 

The production is one of the highest points on Cavalcade. By far, it is one of the most complex and broad albums in terms of instrumentation of the year. Working with more common instruments, such as old guitars, thick basses, and angry drums, and with more different instruments, such as bouzouki, marxophone, optigan, and congas, the band reached a really impressive and bold level of elegance and experimentation. Of course, not at all times do they use this absurd and curious diversity of instruments, both organics or digital, totally to their advantage, however, they almost always create something sensational. Furthermore, we can also observe the role of transitions that are present at all times, both in the passages of the various sound facets that only one song has, like the last track, or among the songs themselves, as the subtle cuts between “John L” and “Marlene Dietrich,” and “Diamond Stuff,” and “Dethroned.” They not only expanded their horizons but also learned how to control them.

Most of the songs on Cavalcade are pretty good. The opener, “John L,” for example, was described by the band as “a jet black comedy about what happens to cult leaders when their followers turn on them.” But, the best part is the sound of the song. The track starts off frantic instrumental that seems desperate to start being played, in the middle, however, everything becomes a kind of cover of the theme song of Hitchcock’s Psycho, establishing a terror, a mystery, and tension in the whole music. The most amazing thing is how clear it all sounds — at times it could seem that the band was actually playing live for you, in your room. Then, the next track, leaves this side more experimental visceral aside, resting on something calmer and down to earth. “Marlene Dietrich” provides an overview of the life of the actress who gives the name to the track. Geordie Greep sings, “Damn all us idiots/Damn us till death/Relentlessly trying to untie our knots of/Rivers and roads that defy all sense.” 

But, Cavalcade’s best songs are “Slow” and “Diamond Stuff.” The first appears with influences from Jazz that quickly mix with Punk to create an even more dense atmosphere, just like the fog of a film. Looking closer, the lyrics of the track have a curious duality: it shows a person waiting for death, but death can be both the end of life and the person going mad at the thought that life is just a lie. The second makes the whole atmosphere even more intense. It starts with strings that look like a horse run and synthesizers paint sounds that seem to be beyond human knowledge. For the most attentive ones, the track also looks like something from Perfume Genius’ Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. The final track, “Ascending Forth” also features one of the best. It shows the singer singing alongside an acoustic guitar. The track evolves smoothly and majestically reaches its points, but always returns to the honest guitar. Meanwhile, Greep makes a connection between happiness and a note. “Everyone loves ascending fourths,” he sings — and that’s true. 

Of course, on the other hand, some songs are not that interesting, or at least not as good as the best ones. In “Dethroned,” for example, there are some golden moments of saxophone and other woodwinds, however, outside of those almost rare golden moments, the track is relatively lukewarm. In the same way, “Chondromalacia Patella,” even with the nicer and more detailed passages, it’s not as impressive and bold as the others. In fact, it’s even kinda boring sometimes. However, the weakest track on Cavalcade is “Hogwash and Balderdash,” which, despite some interesting experimental moments, is just the classic and usual song that every post-punk band makes. To put it clearer, if you put this track on the Squid’s or Black Country, New Road’s album, you wouldn’t even notice that it was, actually, a black midi’s song. These songs also share the fact that they present some moments that seem to be unfinished or borrowed from other songs from other bands and groups. But, in the good and the bad, they handed over everything they had and that was more than enough. 

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