Black Midi: Schlagenheim
Released June 21st, 2019
Black Midi are one of the most musically gifted and enigmatic bands performing today. Their debut album Schlagenheim is released on June 21st. Louder Than War’s Rhys Delany reviews.
Black Midi are an oddly elusive band. Instead of taking the approach of most young indie bands and generating a vast following online, they instead only use their Facebook page for minimalist necessity, only being used to announce tour news and new music. This lack of presence only adds to their mystery, and no one really knows too much about them, leaving obsessives like myself to over analyse everything they do.
In a recent interview with the Quietus, singer Geordie Greep claims song names such as Bmbmbm and Talking Heads simply have no semiotic meaning. Recent single Talking Heads, for instance, was named so simply due to sounding a bit like a Talking Heads song.
While on the topic of singles, so far Black Midi have released Bmbmbm (averagely priced around £70 on Discogs), Speedway EP (£60), Crow’s Perch CDr (£5 – £30) and most recently Talking Heads/Crow’s Perch 12” (generously sitting around £10). The incredible price-hike of Black Midi vinyl releases has only added to the intrigue of the band and creates an involuntary pang of need in the heart of every vinyl collector.
Black Midi have unintentionally created a mystique, simply down to having an inactive Twitter account and being given a sense of valued rarity by faceless fans. The band, however, are not shy of sly PR stunts. They gave the Crow’s Perch CDR away for free in record stores across the country and then, on the day of announcing their debut LP, played a secret two-hour show at London’s New River Studios. I think the band obviously know the hype they’re generating and are cleverly capitalising on this.
The question, however, is, do the band’s subtle social antics make for a good record?
Yes, they do.
Simply put, Schlagenheim is a fascinating record from start to finish. While not necessarily being a concept album, I don’t think you could really listen to select tracks without the accompaniment of the rest of the album. I urge everyone who buys this record to listen from start to finish, with either a decent set of speakers or headphones and give it the full 44-minute attention it deserves.
The band claimed they didn’t want the album to be recreated in a live environment. They wanted the studio recordings to be one thing and the live to be another. And they succeed in doing this. So much to the extent that I feel I’m very much in the minority as I find the recorded stuff far more visceral than any live performance.
For Schlagenheim, the band had Dan Carey (of Speedy Wunderground fame) produce the record. The band and producer were essentially set up to work together from various meetings at The Windmill in Brixton. Carey has produced music by many great bands from the current South London circuit such as Goat Girl, Warmduscher and Meatraffle. With an already impressive list of credits, Carey feels like the only appropriate collaborator for Black Midi. The pair have come together and created an almost Albini/Shellac-esque album.
The band’s technical prowess is shown throughout the album in a way that wouldn’t be seen live. There are manipulated vocals, synthesizers, sequencers, drum machines, banjos and organs, which contribute to the vast soundscapes. Clearly harking back to the groups BRIT school days, where they no doubt received extensive multi-instrumental knowledge. The BRIT school connection is one that has previously made me judge the band from arm’s length, as my uneducated, punk-ethos, DIY bias makes me think of those more educated than I, as being snob-like. And although Black Midi get often get lumped into a Math Rock/Prog filing system, they still use their education to resist conventional labels and are undoubtedly one of the most musically interesting bands in recent time.
The title of the album, Schlagenheim, when translated from German means, ‘hit home’. The style and technical capability of the four 19-20-year-old musicians really does hit home when you consider their ability and age. Hopefully, this will maintain and each member will be able to greatly contribute to whatever musical projects they further pursue, whether together or solo and will lament the group as another big name in the BRIT School alumni.
Schlagenheim showcases the varied abilities of each band member. Geordie Greep beings a sardonic blissed-out vocal to six tracks, bass-man Cameron Picton delivers a monotone and screamed style on two, and guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin gives a haunting scream-shout on possibly the funkiest and best song on the album. Morgan Simpson, while not featuring on the album vocally, is still the loudest and most present of the group. His god-like arms of Shiva style (while more impressive live) will leave you stunned.
The sound of Black Midi is tight, but the ideas are fluid. If the band ever graces us with a new album, we are told it may not be the same sound and style as Schlagenheim. This album merely captures the band where they are now. What originally started as an ‘ambient, drone noisy thing’, became what we hear today. It’s the ‘take it or leave it’ attitude that has helped generate much of the hype around Black Midi and it’s safe to say Schlagenheim lives up.
Schlagenheim is released on June 21st and can be bought from here.