Black Midi, Schlagenheim, 2019, Rough Trade
1. "953" 2. "Speedway"
4. "Near DT, MI"
6. "Of Schlagenheim"
8. "Years Ago"
Experimental rockers Black Midi formed in London in 2017. Schlagenheim is their debut album and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. The album title translates from German as “Hit Home”.
The album opens with a cacophony of guitars and drums on "953". It’s a bizarre sounding song with a constantly changing vocal and it’s difficult to get a handle on, but the rhythm section is on fire so it’s still enjoyable. "Speedway", the album’s second single release is totally different, with heavy, cold synths that make it feel quite menacing. "Reggae" is quiet and gentle to start, reaching a crescendo of noise by the end. The drumming on it is incredible. The dystopian "Near DT, MI", written about the fact that the residents of Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean water (It’s now been six years) is probably the hardest song to listen to due to its subject matter. It’s very punky and industrial sounding though, which makes it a highlight for me. "Western", an 8 minute long monster of a song with some banjo and more brilliant drum work is a western movie in song form. Starting calmly with scene setting and with a frantic mid section representing the inevitable gun fight before coming to a calm resolution again. "Of Schlagenheim" is another synth heavy track which it takes a lot of work to follow along with. The lyrics being almost unintelligible at the start of the song. It’s an example of the soft-loud-soft sound that permeates the songs on this album, despite their apparent diversity. "Bmbmbm", the band’s breakthrough single is the most polished and put together track and for me, therefore the standout. Every element comes together to create a satisfying whole, eventually reaching the band’s favoured crescendo of noise at the end. "Years Ago" initially sounds like it belongs at a poetry recital before it changes direction into a mess of noise. The initial beat continues throughout though, making this the most interesting of their experiments for me. The final track is "Ducter" and the affected vocal makes it a tough one to enjoy although, again, the beat is brilliant.
It’s a chaotic mixed bag of an album, the sound of a band working out who they are, experimenting and enjoying making noise together. For me it’s very hit and miss and it’s clear that the more coherent tracks are the ones I enjoy the most. The constantly changing vocal style alone is a bit too much for my taste. There is something enticing about their sound though, and their technical ability as musicians cannot be argued, indeed in Morgan Simpson they have one of the best drummers around at the moment. I can’t call myself a fan of them yet, but I’d certainly be interested to hear how their sound evolves over the next five years. As the band themselves have often stated, it certainly won’t stay the same.