By Jasmin Robinson, Third year History
'Math rock is always a tetchy genre, but with Schlagenheim, it’s as though black midi found its weaknesses, re-packaged them, and sold them off as something a lot less frustrating', Jasmin Robinson reviews.
In an interesting augmentation of math rock, black midi’s debut record Schlagenheim swerves in and out of normality. Its route into the avant-garde is founded on a youthful wrestle with genres, residing in a jazz-kraut-fusion that melts the mould of contemporary alternative rock. Just when ‘Reggae’ feels like it should go, it stops, and it jars and juts in just the right ways. Likewise, ‘bmbmbm’ is a spikey tussle between melody and cacophony – hitting off-beats succinctly yet harassing in its jittering guitar work and freaked-out moments. Math rock is always a tetchy genre, but with Schlagenheim, it’s as though black midi found its weaknesses, re-packaged them, and sold them off as something a lot less frustrating. In its bounding moments and its slower moments, the record is idiosyncratic of the Londoners tasteful use of the genre to show their disengagement with run-of-the-mill indie rock.
‘Ducter’, for example, is a garbling sucker-punch to the South London scene. Closing off the band’s tour de force, it builds up instrument by instrument almost to breaking point, until all the four-piece can settle for is a heavier redux of the first 4 minutes of the song. Again, ‘Years Ago’ tampers with typical song structure, instead sliding through each instrument to create a discordant switch between motorik-esque moments, and raucous staccato outbursts. For a Brit School band, black midi have detached themselves from their academic fellows with their left-of-field approach. Undeniably, with all the press hype surrounding them, it’s rewarding to see the band maintaining the rawness of their first few releases – namely ‘bmbmbm’ in 2018, and a cassette recording of a live performance with Damo Suzuki. What’s more, following all the excitement, the band have opted for minimal interactions with social media and the music press. For up-and-coming bands, it’s usually a given that a hefty press campaign must be orchestrated for a debut record. However, it plays testament to the sublime nature of black midi that they don’t need this, nor want it.
For all the hype they have around them, black midi have played the game well. ‘Of Schlagenheim’ is the best demonstrator of this. Static synthesisers, drawling freakish vocals, scratchy guitars and ramshackle drums combine to create a strangely danceable lapse in the otherwise arty pretence of the record. The black midi boys have created a mystique around their releases - no song on the album fits on its own; and their pre-album releases giveth, and taketh away. The release of Schlagenheim is seminal. It’s an album that dips its toes in a few waters, and it is so refreshing to hear. The technical prowess of the four-piece is conceptual and deserves all the praise it gets. In its fluidity there is precision; however, black midi’s intentions with schlagenheim are completely unclear. Don’t stray more than an arm’s length away from these boys, as after such a fantastic record, it’ll be far too exciting to see their next steps.