black midi is a UK band that came out of nowhere. In a collection of different genres — math rock, post-punk, funk, and noise, Schlagenheim misdirects but captivates. Songs are constructed from spare parts, built up into a giant dome of magnificence, then blown up to shatters, only to be picked back up and rebuilt again. There is a lot of potential oozing out of these four lads that came out of BRIT school, a performing arts-focused education that has some notable alumni in the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse, and FKA Twigs. It’s no wonder the band is so talented at creating something novel in a time of oversaturated music.
black midi’s technical prowess has to be acknowledged with drummer Morgan Simpson leading the charge. From being a drummer prodigy when he was just a kid, Simpson has been actualized in the form of an experimental punk drummer behind the pandemonium that the rest of the band relays. On opener “953,” the energy is immediately palpable with Simpson fuelling the sound with a blast of odd time signature carnage. The music is robust and frantic, a kind of rush that pulls you in from different directions. Simpson’s playing sounds like drum fills being played as the beat’s backbone instead of breaks in the rhythm, carrying the track along with Geordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin’s barrage of guitar distortion and Cameron Picton’s walloping bass.
The band’s range in different genres shows their vast array of influences. “Speedway” and “Reggae” take their influence from Talking Heads and their noise godfather Steve Albini. The songs shift the opening track’s frenzied mood into more freeform jazz-punk and danceable art rock. It’s a peculiar change that makes anyone think that this band is more than just blast beats and raw energy. After all, they come from more formal music education, but feeling that shift gives these lads more musical clout than your average punk band. Returning to optimal disorder, “Near DT, MI” assaults the ears in fantastical ways. Picton leads the helm this time, referencing what can only be the Flint water crisis as he screams, “I’m alive, and I can see / The water is foul, and it’s hard to breathe.” It feels like a protest song that would make Fugazi proud and leaves one completely breathless after its short two and a half minute span. Then, some western vibes — with Greep and Kwasniewski-Kelvin occasionally sporting a cowboy hat — centerpiece “Western” slows down to feel like waking up in the hot empty desert. As band’s most beautiful and eloquent track on the record, alt-country guitars flourish and develop into a steadier rock ballad with their signature shrouds of noise culminating. It’s noteworthy that they still come from avant-garde territory, to see noise as art.
Greep’s unique yelps give truth to the saying that frontmen make bands. It’s impossible to pull your attention away from his spastic vocalizing in the chaos of the music. Greep is just the cherry on top of the already eccentric instrumentation of the band. On the short snuff film, “bmbmbm,” Greep snarls like a cartoon villain over a steady thumping beat and a sample that sounds like someone being tortured by Greep’s villainous persona. There are an overwhelming discomfort and tension that feels like something horrible is happening while the bass and drums’ steady rhythm act as a death march for a secret cult, preparing to make a sacrifice.
In the closing of the decade, as hip-hop takes the title of Most Popular Genre, rock music seeks to make a left turn. As one of 2019’s best records, Schlagenheim breaks new ground; and knowing how old the members of black midi are, it’s safe to say that the future of rock music is in good hands.