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Black Midi - "Schlagenheim" | Album Review

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by Ian Feigle (@i_feigle)

Black Midi, the raucous freshman of Britain’s burgeoning post-punk high school, have finally caught up to their reputation with their anticipated debut full-length Schlagenheim. Videos of the band’s taught and tense live shows, a Bandcamp release of the band performing with Can’s Damo Suzuki, exclusive tour EPs, and other factors limiting the band’s exposure have left eager ears wanting more from the band. Black Midi’s sound on Schlagenheim is sophisticated, yet they surprise their listeners with their youth. They have studied the progression of rock through a different timeline. They are the prodigious and glitched studio musicians of the late Aughts who have ran amok over the annals of their country’s pervasive post-punk history. 

Having met in London’s prestigious Brit School for performing arts, the members of Black Midi have found a way to usurp the schooling process with real-world experience. They picked up steam at The Brixton Windmill in London, playing no-nonsense shows with little more to assess them by than their seemingly brilliant and blatant form of post-punk. A breath of London fog rejuvenates the double-guitar four-piece form. Vocals are covered by guitarist Geordie Greep, bassist Cameron Picton, and guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin, while drummer Morgan Simpson bursts from behind the band with his frantic, well-trained, and intricate drumming. 

Black Midi’s Schlagenheim follows a recent string of singles the band has released on Rough Trade this spring and has set a new bar for contemporary punk-rock scenes in Britain. Opening track “953” cuts and chops and repeats in a double-timed riff that tumbles over itself triumphantly. Greep’s vocals call out the listeners in the voyeuristic second person, relating to them in their confusion and lack of understanding. The band taunts you, smashes you over the head, and dares you to ask for more. 

“Speedway,” a song sung by bassist Picton, is subdued, jaunted, and staggeringly impactful, crescendoing over his sincere and packed-like-a-tin-can-of-sardines vocals with waving guitar chords of in-depth dissonance. Picton sings to the listener sweetly and near-sarcastically about gentrification, development, and progress. A new city is being built on old floodplains and dogshit parks. The track “near DT, MI,” also sung by Picton, obviously yet simply comments on the water crisis in Michigan. His lyrics are picturesque in their severity, and again the song crescendos over Picton’s near timid yet sympathetic voice that drips with emotive condensation. Both songs are heartfelt, moving, and fucking exposed in a manner that bleaches your conscious with light. 

The track “Of Schlagenheim” and “bmbmbm” exhibit some of the band’s more rhythmic and jam-based compositions that fluctuate in the undeniable flow of internet inquiries. Greep goes long form on the back half of “Of Schlagenheim,” stuttering a fugue state of avian dreams  over a rhythm that propels wondrous bass synths through Boss DD5s. Black Midi is noisy and goddamned eccentric. Throughout the whole album, Simpson weaves through 8th, 16th, 32nd note accents with his whole kit. Guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin consistently outplays himself and smashes his tone with a clear-yet-fucked presence. He takes over on vocals for the track “Years Ago,” a raucous track that butts Black Midi’s most sophisticated sounds with its grimiest. 

The album ends with the rhythmic and arpeggiated “Ducter.” Greep takes on a rival in a battle of academic olympics, mentally dodging his debate partner’s retorts with swift theoretic gymnastics. The battle comes to an end as Greep’s resilience holds out, crying out in his most maniacally sinister voice “He could not break me!” The amount of tense and complicated energy Black Midi creates is exciting and speaks worlds of the new music coming out of Britain. Black Midi admittedly write in jam-session form––proof of which can be found on their live recordings with front-man-to-beat Damo––and their ability to build and break and smash together these jam-session ideas via their musicianship produces incredible results. Despite the hype surrounding the band, and although Schlagenheim has debuted Black Midi into the blinding light of the media, Black Midi have obscured themselves from view and basked in the shadow of their music.