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.
On ‘Cavalcade’ Geordie Greep, Cameron Picton and Morgan Simpson sound like a totally different band. The wild, and free, improvisations of their debut ‘Schlagenheim’ has been replaced with glorious melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Of course, ‘Cavalcade’ wasn’t going to be ‘Schlagenheim 2.0’. When Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin removed himself from touring ‘Schlagenheim’ to focus on his mental health there was a hole that needed to be filled. So, how do you replace a mercurial guitarist? With a saxophonist of course. Kaidi Akinnibi joined the live setup, along with Seth Evans on keyboards. This set up worked so well they were brought into the recording of ‘Cavalcade’. Jerskin Fendrix on violin also appears on opening track ‘John L’.
The opening track ‘John L’ sounds like a harder and more abrasive version of something from ‘Schlagenheim’. It kicks you in the balls and then stands back and slightly taunts you. In short, it’s fantastic. As ‘John L’ is nearing the end you brace yourself for the next onslaught. But it doesn’t come. Instead ‘Marlene Dietrich’ is one of the most tender songs I’ve heard in a long time. Greep’s crooning works so well, you are drawn into its work. Much to the point that you immediately forget ‘John L’ even happened.
Actually, while listening to ‘Cavalcade’, the first few times, I keep pausing what I was doing to remind myself what I was listening to. This might seem like a slight, but it isn’t. I knew I was listening to the new black midi album, but large portions of the album didn’t sound like anything the band had released before. This is on display on the second track ‘Marlene Dietrich’. If the opening was disorientation, then this is about focused song writing. As Greep strums his guitar and croons along it becomes evident that the grandeur that has lurking in their best songs is now coming to the fruition. It’s majestic and beautiful in ways I never expected black midi to reach, let alone attempt.
The singles ‘Chondromalacia Patella’ and ‘Slow’ follow next and kind of bridge the gap between their two schools of songwriting. They are frenetic but there is a belied elegance to them. Much like ‘Marlene Dietrich’ ‘Ascending Forth’ closes the album with a tender embrace. There are moments of, the final third especially, that make it, possibly, the most romantic song I’ve heard this year. And that’s how the album ends. With a feeling of romance hope.
‘Cavalcade’ shows that black midi is a band constantly trying to push themselves, as much as they’re trying to push us. They are not happy to sit on their laurels and release the same album again. They faced some structural issues but instead of going over new ground they forged ahead regardless of whether it would alienate their passionate fanbase.
Rumour has it that ‘black midi III’ is being written now, with a release date pencilled in for late 2021/early 2022. If ‘Cavalcade’ is anything to go by we should be in for a treat. This is also incredibly exciting to hear, and if is true, shows that black midi might be that rare exception of band, who don’t just live up to their hype but exceed it.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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