Album Reviews

Album Review: black midi - Schlagenheim (Rough Trade)

Sam Smith

The UK is experiencing a post-punk revival of sorts right now. Bands such as Shame and IDLES are bringing a somewhat thought of long-lost genre back into people’s consciousness with an energy and enthusiasm that has not been seen for years in British punk. Well, you can now add black midi to this list, a relatively new experimental post-punk group who have just released their debut album Schlagenheim.

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black midi

Coming out of the world-renowned BRIT School, a musical institution that has produced the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse, black midi are a four-piece group of nineteen and twenty-year-olds; made up of Georgie Greep on vocals and guitar, Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin on vocals and guitar, Cameron Picton on vocals and bass, and Morgan Simpson on drums. 

... this is one of the most intense, wild, indescribable sounding debut albums I have heard in a long time and the alternative music world is better for it.

The sound of black midi, to be perfectly frank is almost indescribable and it is very difficult to box them into any one genre given the experimentation and improvisation involved in their songcraft. If I had to have a go at placing them stylistically, I would say they closely resemble a modern-day Public Image Limited fused with elements of Can and King Crimson.

But be warned, a black midi song can go anywhere musically speaking from jazz fusion to experimental ambient jams to math rock to post-punk. It is the experimental and improv nature of both their sound and song structure which makes this debut album an intriguing listen and in many ways a journey of discovery across the nine tracks.

The album kicks off with a ferocious guitar riff and a wall of pounding drums that make up the start of 953. Apparently, when recording the album, which was completed in just a few days, five-hour jam sessions would often lead to just one riff that would only make up a few bars of a song. This is probably what happened with 953, with Greep’s vocals only arriving around two minutes into the track.

After a heavy start to proceedings, proceedings that showcase Greep’s distinctive, all be it slightly Johnny Rotten/Mark E. Smith sounding mumbled vocals, things move down a notch both sound-wise and tempo-wise on Speedway, a quirky post-punkish track that features spoken word vocals and Kraftwerk-esque rhythms played on guitar and drums. Here we see the first signs of real experimentation from the group with the results working well.

Reggae has an early-Talking Heads feel to it and features some excellent drumming from Simpson who himself is a real star across the entire album with an excellent feel for quirky disjointed rhythms in his playing. Then comes the moody punk of Near DT, MI, before the eight-minute progressive epic Western closes out the first half of the record in style showcasing the bands compositional and improvisational jam skills and ability to move between different shades within songs.

Side two then kicks off with Of Schlagenheim, (I still don’t know what that means) with Greep’s vocals seemingly have gotten even more mumbly and undistinguishable since track one, adding to the mystery of intrigue in what for all intense and purposes is the title track of the record.

Bmbmbm is a track that helped gain the band a following internationally thanks to their excellent live performance of it on KEXP and here the studio version is just as good with its pounding rhythm section driving the song along nicely as Greep takes centre stage once again with his wild and otherworldly vocals before the song climaxes in a loud distorted wall of sound.

The album then winds down with the noise rock of Years Ago before the jerky spacey experimentation of Ducter puts a full stop on proceedings in the most manic and intense way possible, something that by now we have gotten used to after nine tracks.

In a music world that at times can be safe, immune to risk, and that tends to stick within strict norms of genre and style, Schlagenheim is neither safe, without risk, nor one to stick to a specific genre. Instead, this is one of the most intense, wild, indescribable sounding debut albums I have heard in a long time and the alternative music world is better for it.

Not only have black midi shown what talented musicians they are on here, but they have also shown at just nineteen and twenty that they are musical risk-takers, willing to push the boat out and try anything in a studio setting without fearing what people might think.

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This is exciting to see from a new young band and bodes well for their future. The band has even promised that in a few years’ time, their music will be unrecognisable from how it is now. How that could be possible I do not know, but this is definitely music to this reviewer’s ears who came away nothing more but impressed by an album that is like nothing else going around right now.

Click here to stream or buy
Released: 21 Jun 2019

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.