ALBUM REVIEW: black midi, Cavalcade
Take a good look at this album cover. Study each and every corner, noting every discernible object that you can see. Really try and understand what you see in front of you, it’s a collage of course, but of what exactly?
Did you figure it out? Well, I haven’t either so if you have, you’re one step ahead of AntiArt. At first, I saw what appeared to be a skyline, but there is just enough visual information missing for that connection to be lost. Is that a pink person on the bottom? A car next to it? I have no fucking idea. The more I attempt to analyze it, the more my vision goes blurry and my brain begins to melt into the image. The reason I focus so heavily this is because it pretty accurately describes what trying to review the album feels like.
The lyrics, much of the time, are so cryptic and full of dead ends that I find it hard to critique them. “John L” for example, is actually said as “John 50”, but even that phrase fails a cursory Google search. From what I can suss out, this character is a harbinger of chaos, war and death that plagues regular society. “In all the world there's no escape from this infernal din” lead singer Geordie Greep adds in an English brogue, like a blood splatter on a Jackson Pollack painting. Instrumentally, the track feels just as unhinged. It’s a non-stop guitar riff that evolves into robust and frenzied strings, polyrhythmic drums, and smashed piano chords. Just as we think the song is coming to a close, it drags us back in but at triple the speed.
The U.K.‘s favorite post-rock/post-punk/post-structural charlatans have always operated on the principle that music is best presented as a series of tangled knots. Just like a great David Lynch film, it’s up to the person enjoying the art to make sense of it. 2019’s Schlagenheim introduced this band to the world with its abrasive, gnarled sound, one that I wasn’t too fond of when it came out. Admittedly, I found songs like “bmbmbm” to be kind of insufferable vocally, and a little too repetitive instrumentally. This time around on Cavalcade, however, the band seems to be focused on organizing the off-beat grooves and angular guitars into shapes and objects that are just recognizable enough for casual music listeners to want to understand them.
“Marlene Dietrich”, while not my favorite track, provides a surprisingly tender and sensical balance to the tracks that precede and follow it. It’s this lounging, softly played little tribute to a wartime entertainer and singer from the ‘30s that feels brand new for the band. “Chondromalacia Patella”, the one that follows, is my favorite track. This relentless and shifting guitar lick gets thrown back and forth between blasts of noise before settling down to a piano and drum driven quite section for a moment. Georgie Greep, the band’s vocalist, uses his crooner mode to much better effect on this one. “Incessant, repulsive, backtracking hypotheses/Seldom finished” he sings before everything goes to Hell again, a perfect thesis for the record that is repeated in a few different forms across the album.
The album continues with this calm-to-crazy push-pull for the next three tracks, to great effect. “Slow” was another amazing single and it sounds even better in the context of the record, if "context" even exists around here. Like “John L” and “Chondromalacia Patella”, it centers around a singular guitar part that acts a vehicle for the hectic impulses of the other instrumentation. Like the former, it slows down for a moment to catch its breath, drums still hitting as if they’re ready to jam again at any moment. Following this is “Diamond Stuff”, a pensive 6-minute ambient piece that feels like a never-ending guitar tune-up, getting increasingly psychedelic as it lurks forward. “Dethroned” takes a more jazzy approach, opening with a deep sax before descending into the typical groovy debauchery.
“Hogwash and Balderdash”, like “John L”, feels like a backwoods hillbilly freak out straight out of the Primus catalog. Everything is so quick and jaunty, and Greep brings back the campy vocals to give it the punch it needs. The closer “Ascending Forth” provides the ultimate counterpoint to it, but truthfully, I’m not a fan. I do like the Renaissance lute ballad aesthetic of it, but it’s far too indulgent and uninteresting lyrically to wow me. After such a no-frills album, why not go balls to the wall and burn it all down on the closer? I give the band credit for subverting expectations, I just wish they would’ve picked a better vehicle to do that. Regardless, Cavalcade is nothing less than a triumph. It’s the sound of a band stripping down then beefing up nearly every aspect of their sound, one that was idiosyncratic and "oddball" on the debut but now feels downright influential. Even though their album covers make my head hurt, they're red-herring filled nightmare puzzles that I’d be happy to take a crack at any day.