Review: Black Midi – Schlagenheim
The much-anticipated debut from these genre-straddling BRIT School graduates finally arrives. Jonathan Wright finds out whether Schlagenheim lives up to the considerable hype.
here are bands around who, whether by accident or design, an air of mystery swirls. In the case of London four-piece Black Midi, there’s certainly an element of design about the way they’ve largely avoided journalists to date, including turning down an interview with Long Live Vinyl inconveniently close to a deadline (it’s fine, we don’t bear a grudge).
Instead, as one of a clutch of new guitar bands associated with Brixton’s Windmill venue, Black Midi have focused on honing a sound that draws on post-punk, jazz, prog, post-rock and gospel without ever being defined by any of these genres.
Along the way, Midi shows have taken on a near-mythic status, based on the band’s willingness to take risks and, in the process, to shape and change the atmosphere of even the most unpromising room. This was certainly demonstrated when the band played a spellbinding set in Rough Trade Bristol’s events space – imagine an abnormally huge walk-in wardrobe – earlier this year. No wonder there’s such anticipation over this debut.
That’s not to say the backstory of Black Midi doesn’t contain some prosaic details. In particular, all are graduates of the BRIT School in Croydon, an institution more often associated with such pop alumni as Adele. So not, to lapse for a moment into rock journo cliché, the real deal then?
Schlagenheim unequivocally says otherwise. Recorded with esteemed producer and Speedy Wunderground chief Dan Carey, it’s a record where the basic tracks were largely laid down live, later augmented with overdubs. It’s probably no coincidence that, as with those Black Midi shows, it’s also a record where you find yourself drawn in whether you like it or not. In this context, rock-out opener 953 serves as a cacophonous statement of intent.
Other tracks show Black Midi’s impressive range. Speedway is as twitchy as anything by early Talking Heads. Western starts out like a Velvet Underground song before morphing into a prog track and closer Ducter takes them into 1990s alt-rock territory.
And yet such references tell only part of the story. What really sets Black Midi apart is the sense of space in all they do. That’s in great part down to drummer Morgan Simpson, whose playing is as far away from rock’s thudding 4/4 as you can imagine. If that makes him sound showy, he is, but his fluid, jazz-inflected fills and rolls always serve Black Midi’s songs rather than coming across as self-indulgent.
In truth, you could say something similar about his co-members, Geordie Greep (vocals/guitar), Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin (vocals/guitar) and Cameron Picton (vocals/bass) because Black Midi come across as a band that have spent long hours rehearsing, to the point where they’re far more technically adept than so many of their contemporaries.
Still, there will be those who find Schlagenheim difficult to love, who see it as an uncomfortable listen, or too ‘clever-clever’; some may find Greep’s Jeff Buckley-esque stylings rather too nasal. They’re all wrong of course, but they’re wrong in a way that augurs well for the future. Why? Because Black Midi are so singular as to sound like a band picking a fight with anyone who dares not to get them. Debut of the year, perhaps even album of the year.
4 Near DT,MI
6 Of Schlagenheim
8 Years Ago