In just a matter of months, London’s Black Midi seemingly came out of nowhere and quickly skyrocketed onto the global arena. The tenderfoot math rockers — Morgan Simpson (drums), Matt Kelvin (guitar/vocals), Cameron Picton (bass/vocals), and Geordie Greep (guitar/vocals) — have been turning heads with every single they drop, winning over fans with shifting time signatures and singer Greep’s frenetic vocals. Now, with Schlagenheim, the band’s busy, explosive debut LP, the painstakingly precise quartet have proven their unique brand of erratic art rock is able to carry the monstrous hype thrust upon it, capturing the raw, concentrated energy of their live sets.
A dexterously experimental record, Schlagenheim rises far above what many might consider to be its central gimmick to create something unexpectedly substantial. Recorded over a five-day period under the watchful eye of noteworthy English producer Dan Carey, the album found Black Midi building songs out of lengthy jam sessions, deconstructing the recordings, and then replicating the tracks with synthesizers and drum machines. As a result, Schlagenheim feels wholly organic, rather than dipping into the plastic, manufactured sheen that so many of electronic music’s weakest entries can’t seem to shake. On top of it all, the band has already become a tight, cohesive unit, showcasing the perfect marriage of four distinct voices.
Despite their young age, Black Midi continuously display an extensive genre knowledge, to the point where they shirk genre altogether. Referencing a host of idols and peers, the album is able to feel just as comfortable with hard-hitting rock jams like spastic, off-kilter “953” as it does when it moves through an array of other stylistic pathways, from groovy, synthetic sci-fi journey “Speedway” to new wave ode “Of Schlagenheim” to the funky and sustained animalistic screeching of “bmbmbm.” It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine the conversations about Frank Zappa and King Crimson and Women that brought these schoolmates together in the first place.
On Schlagenheim, as in the band’s live shows, it’s the jagged, blistering tracks that truly dig their hooks into the listener. As the album bursts into its angrier moments like sweaty, unwieldy jungle “Reggae,” murky descent into rage over the Flint water crisis on “Near DT, MI,” and tropical, flowing noise rock track “Years Ago,” Black Midi tap into an emotional purity that rarely translates this undisturbed into the experimental realm. Schlagenheim doesn’t allow for complacency; it aims to stir within its audience the same anxious fever that went into recording it. Even the album’s more hopeful exchanges, like bouncy, dancefloor-ready “Ducter,” feel agitated and unhinged.
Even when it’s at its most alienating (“A pink caterpillar with six anorexic children let me stay / But I had to keep moving through anteater town / After anteater town after anteater town after anteater town after anteater town”), Schlagenheim is destined to secure a devoted fan base for one of 2019’s most promising acts. Straight out of high school, Black Midi continue to ride their wave of well-earned momentum and craft an inspired, stimulating experience. In interviews, the band often assert that their sound will be entirely different on the next album, but honestly, they could stand to further explore this space for a little while.