All that we could ask for
Joe Smith
09:53 24th May 2021

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It’s strange to think of a world pre-black midi. Math-rock was almost dead, post-punk was becoming stale, and the enigmatic Geordie Greep was relatively unknown. That all changed however, with their 2019 debut Schlagenheim. They erupted from London’s underbelly, with their undeniably unique sound and took their rightful place at the forefront of the UK’s experimental scene. On Cavalcade, they’ve come back stronger, with bolder experimentation, dynamic production and, surprisingly, an ensemble cast of unconventional characters. It's really all that we could ask for.

Cavalcade is a perfectly-executed offering of the band's development since album one. Instead of replicating the sound of their debut, they’ve shifted and sculpted it into a whole new beast, rich with barrier breaking expressionism and glistening soundscapes. Produced mostly by both the band and John ‘Spud’ Murphy, black midi were able to forge an album rife with brash avant-garde atmospherics and meticulously-poised production.

From the get-go, black midi emphasise their new direction with the jaunty ‘John L’. It accompanies a cult leader whose followers have turned against them, and it leads to a devilishly-comedic tune. With the help of some particularly vicious violin, provided by Jerskin Fendrix, and some truly incredible instrumental breakdowns, ‘John L’ is bordering on perfect chaos.

‘Marlene Dietrich’ focuses on the titular cabaret singer, and it manages to capture the very essence of her era. Taking a more subdued approach, it grows in atmosphere as it goes on. Beginning with a dulcet guitar accompanied only by Greep’s signature vocals, it quickly expands into a cinematic monolith, abundant with rising string symphonies that transform an at first, weirdly toned down track for black midi, into a swelling and operatic triumph. It would fit right in in the 1930’s...well, if you took away the synths at least.

However, amidst the strings and saxophones of Cavalcade, lies the person that allows them to reach such enormous heights. Morgan Simpson’s drumming ability is unparalleled - and it’s this that makes this album such a sensation. ‘Dethroned’ sees Simpson performing at an almost inhuman level. The speed and ferocity of the drumming creates an energy so raw, you forget you’re listening to a record, and are not actually at a live performance. The same applies to ‘Diamond Stuff’. The drums lay fairly dormant up until the track's third act, where they emerge from the shadows and become immaculately layered with the song's jangling synths.

Cavalcade draws to a close with the medieval-ish ‘Ascending Forth’. It lies somewhere between an Old English court performance, and an explosion at the punk, jazz and math-rock factory. On this track, we’re treated to a culmination of all the songs we’ve heard already. There’s the slowness of ‘Marlene Dietrich’, the rampant energy of ‘Slow’, and the sheer loftiness of ‘Chondromalacia Patella’, all brought together in one victorious tune as the album's characters parade together in front of us, for one final performance.

With this record only their second effort, one in which has taken them in a completely different direction to Schlagenheim, it begs the question: “Just what can we expect next from them?” That’s completely up in the air, so for now, let us just enjoy the masterpiece that is Cavalcade.

Cavalcade arrives 28 May via Rough Trade Records.

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Photo: Press