In November 2018, four kids travelled from London to Reykjavik to perform at Iceland Airwaves, a festival essentially dedicated to handing attendees a new favourite artist. In a real “I was there” moment, black midi, the quartet of young men in question, performed at Kex Hostel for KEXP. The short concert garnered gallons of hype for the band, setting the quaint venue ablaze with their energetic brand of math rock, morphing the space into ‘Spiderland’, and handing themselves to attendees as a new favourite artist.
When they were finished salivating, Rough Trade got their hands on black midi, resulting in ‘Schlagenheim’, the band’s debut album, recorded over five days with Dan Carey, a producer known for working with Sia and Hot Chip. Here’s hoping black midi’s sound has retained some noise and guts, two key live ingredients of theirs.
Sonically, ‘Schlagenheim’ is stellar – full of incapacitating rhythms and rusty, blunt riffs. Reluctant to completely replicate their live set, black midi have thrown a few banjos and keyboards into the mix, and the payoff is just as explosive. ‘Schlagenheim’ translates to “hit home”, and boy does it…
In an honourable exploitation of idiosyncrasy, ‘Schlagenheim’ opens with live staple ‘953’, featuring a downright bruiser of a guitar riff, revisited throughout the piece before being reworked as a fast-paced outro section. The song serves as an introduction not only to the band’s dexterous, hyperactive crunch, but also Georgie Greep’s intentionally-polarizing, David Thomas-esque vocals, delivering a miniature sermon in the form of a ramble – “please stop all of this strange fantasy / this is not who you are, not why you want to be”.
‘Western’ is black midi’s numerical coup de grace, proving while you may label the band’s sound as pretentious, said pretentiousness is imperative to their skilful core. Epic, and strangely soulful at times, the guitar riff glides from slinky and humorous to quick and technical, all the while replicating a Mexican Standoff. It makes for a stunning contrast to the stoic vocals and simpler guitar strokes of ‘Speedway’, a rare moment where black midi refuse to favour calamity.
There are many impressive, start-stop moments of tempo and volume change throughout ‘Schlagenheim. ‘Near DT, MI’ is a true, noisy powerhouse – despite its briefness, the track features unearthly, early System of a Down-esque basslines and strange guitar effects towards the finale, mixed with thrilling harshness. ‘Of Schlagenheim’ features a bassline that sounds like it’s boiling, and ‘Years Ago’ bows out with distorted, anxious vocals, like a helicopter pilot about to crash.
‘Reggae’ stomps on its get-go eeriness by becoming talkative as the track rolls along, like a loopier Mark E Smith. Still, the unglued vocals don’t get anymore noteworthy than on ‘bmbmbm’ – “oh what a purpose, oh what a purpose, oh what a magnificent purpose” – like David Byrne being squeezed. Then, on closing track ‘Ducter’, black midi finds a sound that directly compliments Georgie Greep’s vocal style, a groovy afrobeat rhythmic flare, one of…magnificent purpose.
‘Schlagenheim’ is just the beginning. black midi have created something powerful and individualistic through their upheavals, and as for where they go from here, the sky is absolutely the limit. black midi’s debut is destructive, self or otherwise, the twenty-first century’s madcap music box.
‘Schlagenheim’ is out now via Rough Trade