Black Midi Modernize Jazz Fusion on 'Cavalcade'
Published May 25, 2021There were many directions Black Midi could have taken to move forward from their acclaimed debut, 2019's Schlagenheim. The sense of mystery surrounding the London-bred post-punks hasn't waned since they burst onto the scene only a few years ago; since then, thousands of people in subreddits and Facebook groups have treated every move the band makes as an Easter egg.
This pressure cooker resulted in a record moulded by fresh influences that doesn't sacrifice what made Black Midi so captivating in the first place. The band's exploration of harmonics and addition of saxophone and keys shows their dexterity as songwriters across many genres. This is most evident in comparison to their contemporaries in the south London post-punk scene; where others have used jazz almost timidly, Black Midi pull all the stops to challenge the standard rock format. Because of this, Cavalcade is a record that modernizes jazz fusion, evolving it beyond its party yacht past.
The band build on their existing eclecticism by staying true to their essentials while they push their own boundaries. Though Geordie Greep's signature Schlagenheim snarl pops up occasionally, his vocals mostly bounce between an earthy croon and the address of an authoritative gospel preacher. In contrast, bassist Cameron Picton's vocal tracks add a softer dimension on exactly the songs that need it. Still, Black Midi's trance-like use of repetition remains strong. "Slow" and "Hogwash and Balderdash" are filled with galloping vamps that ebb and flow through multiple parts, acting as an older sibling to their earlier works. The band nod to Steely Dan with the soft bossa nova of "Marlene Dietrich." Cavalcade is a departure inasmuch as it holds onto old charm; it still has edge and abrasion, just in different ways.
That said, the bulk of the album's lustre is in its niceties. In a press release, powerhouse drummer Morgan Simpson gives listeners the sound advice to "spend some time living in it." Each listen unlocks a new layer, both musically and in the album's narrative of a dark procession. Where there's layering, there is drama. There isn't anything about the album that's understated, so it takes some time for its nuances and subtleties to sink in.
It's in this way that Black Midi keep forging their own brand of avant-punk, intricate and attention grabbing in its mission. Cavalcade is an album of extremes, fluctuating between lounging wizardry and an angular, prog-rock nightmare. It's smart and well-calculated, expressing their range as musicians. Most importantly, it's the best path forward to keep speculators on their toes. (Rough Trade)