Black midi finds themselves at a very interesting point in the storied history of rock music. Post-Punk and Noise-Rock seem to correlate well with each other. This year has emphasized that idea with the hype and delivered success of bands such as Shame, as well as Iceage arriving at new epic fronts, in addition to the unmatched full-length debut of Squid on Bright Green Field.
But perhaps there was no greater pressure on any of these bands than black midi. After the great success of their debut Schlagenheim, everyone wanted more from the young British rockers. But did anyone really know what they were going to get? After the band announced that guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin was stepping aside to focus on his mental health, the appeal of future releases seemed uncertain. The thing that seems to keep rock music relevant right now is differentiating styles. Black midi filled Kelvin’s missing roles with horns, strings and keys.
The band was immediately determined to be much different on Cavalcade. Determination, after all, is a key proponent that helps things advance.
Crashing pianos, screeching guitars, and haunting vocal echoes set the stage on the record’s lead single, “John L.” The track feels like a thrilling and wild drive, like speeding 80 MPH down a hilly dirt road just for your back and neck to slam around at every bump—it could not feel more liberating.
This song explores different rhythms and patterns of sound. The drums have a machine-gun pace and a rattle reminiscent of “…And Justice” era Metallica. It even features a piano that sounds like it was thrown off the twelfth floor of a posh apartment complex. Considering all of the aspects of this song, it could not have been a better fit.
Then things switch abruptly on “Marlene Dietrich.” The pace changes immediately as if you just had palpitations severe enough that you considered the idea you were experiencing a heart attack, just to have your ticker return to normal in one swift beat. The horns and strings feel perfectly at home with a simpler drum beat and strumming guitars. It ends on a pretty note, too. The band has already explored many styles through the first two tracks.
Next comes “Chondromalacia Patella,” a fresh take that begins with an old-school guitar riff that recalls David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” The familiar tone gets amplified by tom-tom drums and a groovy bass line from Cameron Picton. It is remarkable that it took three songs for his role to be extensive on a track because it is so good, but it is that variety that makes the first half of this record so stunning.
Frontman Geordie Greep picks up that funkiness with his guitar later on the track. There is also slight use of synths underneath the various instruments. They help reign in a slower, quiet pace which is then returned to the elements that made you like this song from the get-go.
It is fast.
All of the different tones and emotions felt are stronger because of the additional elements all coming together, making the end of this song feel almost like a finale. This one ends with a slick and fast guitar solo that starts off melodic and fizzles into a siren.
Don’t take too long to breathe in between. You are about to be smacked with the jazzy fusions of bass and drum fills on the similar track, “Slow.”
The title of this song is misleading. The single version was titled “Slow (Loud).” It has quiet vocals and empowering instrumentals that are right in your face for five and a half minutes. This is one of two songs on the album where the bassist, Picton, handles vocal duties. The lyrics also take center stage for the first time on the record.
“Slowly it falls and slowly it dies,
Slowly it crumbles right under my eyes,” are sung quickly and to the point.
“And it takes so long,” is drug out.
Picton feels the meaning of the words he bellows as he sings them, turning them into a deeper, more well-thought-out element. The vocals are like another instrument added to this already stellar lineup. We also get a return of funky bass reminiscent of slingshots whirling around with a deep and mighty tone.
The instruments all align in what makes up the last thirty seconds of the song. “BUM-BUM, BUM-BUM, BUM-BUM,” the devices sing together in a higher but grounded tone. The song’s last act does not feel dragged out. It is catchy, like an epic conclusion to these two songs that sound oh so the same.
“Diamond Stuff” has a guitar that strums the same note for the first minute and twenty-seven seconds with chimes and other elements underneath as not to bore the listener away. This track embodies a cloudy but dry day filled with eeriness. As if you are being pulled from a dark room to a much brighter one. What starts off fearful eventually transcends into beauty, and then the clouds all decided to throw down some cozy rain.
Despite that easy feeling, black midi’s talented drummer Morgan Simpson lays beats that are enough to make your head bob and your face smile. Thanks in part to his classic style of drumming, black midi can find fans in casual rock music listeners. This drumming is matched by ascending tones of electronica. It jams out by the end and notably has minimal lyrics, just three stanzas worth. That’s okay, though; the lyrics would have taken away from the instrument’s thematic delivery and heavy lifting.
Just when you think you are going to get change, Cavalcade bleeds back to the funky aspects that make listeners like the first side of the record. It does take away a touch of promising variety that seemed so prevalent on the previous track. Not that the album having a common tonal theme is a bad thing, but it certainly seems a touch repetitive as it lingers. This song has all the elements that make the first few tracks enjoyable, but at this point when you want something new, you get more of the same.
Black midi eventually switches things up again with unsettling rattling sounds at the beginning of “Hogwash and Balderdash.” With a riff that channels Les Claypool’s bass and a hillbilly’s guitar, you get a good mix.
Heavenly acoustic guitars eventually greet your ears but are overpowered by vocals matched with the same hellish groove at the beginning of the album. Imagine you are waiting in Purgatory but are convinced you will likely fall into Hell. The adrenaline rush of impending doom pulls on you. That is how this song feels. It ends with a cutoff though, one that may save you after all…
An abrupt mid-note transition takes us to the nine-minute “Ascending Forth.” The vocals and lyrics take the main stage for the second time on this left-turn record. It is a ballad with dreamy pianos constantly evolving. It is a strong closer which is sung by both Greep and Picton. “Everyone loves ascending forth,” belts into the record’s conclusion.
We cannot be sure where exactly black midi is headed on their journey, but this well-arranged and talented group will be one worth watching as their career unfolds further.
There is more to be explored for the British group. One day soon we will get to experience that. For now, it is not hard to be content with the delivery of all aspects of Cavalcade.
Every member shines light through a pressure that black midi has shown all of us that they can take on.
black midi Cavalcade Rating: 8/10
Our favorite tracks:
- John L
- Diamond Stuff
- Ascending Forth
Listen to Cavalcade from black midi here
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