black midi – ‘Cavalcade’ | Album Review

Cavalcade is out now via Rough Trade Records.

After their stunning 2019 debut Schlagenheim, the world was left wondering how the back then four-piece experimental post-punk outfit black midi would elevate and expand their work for future endeavours. The announced hiatus of vocalist/guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin meant one less creative mind at work in the studio. As such, Cavalcade saw the band reduced to Geordie Greep on vocals/guitar, Cameron Picton on vocals/bass/synths and Morgan Simpson on percussion. But if the Londoner trio’s sophomore release lies in proof of anything, it would be that their strength was never in numbers, but in how strong and capable each member is.

In fact, black midi’s collective evolution in every possible department has been one worth praising. The lyrical content and themes on the album strive through their own deconstruction of meaning into fantastical, surreal free-form poetry-fused verses. Listening to the opener ‘John L’ is like experiencing a literary decoupé where semantics take on after the exquisite and bizarre sounds that accompany them. Couple that with Greep’s monotone yet emphatic delivery, and you get “Crowds of every age, creed and gender are abound / Signor kitsch sings skits detailing each attendees sins / The first time anteaters lose themselves in the wings / With vigour they scratch red spots, overwhelmed by their king”.

‘Slow’ is predominantly centred around fast-paced, jazzy drums and haunting string sections, which occasionally lower their intensity so that the creeping of Picton’s ominous whispers can be heard. Picton lets us in on something he’s been patiently waiting for, although we never really get to know what it is. Could be enlightenment. Or maybe waiting for the world to madden and finally end. Regardless, the question is still begged, “How much longer? / Any day / How much further / Must I wake? / I guess I’ll wait”.

Perhaps the most familiar or comfortable instance in the album sound-wise is located somewhere along ‘Dethroned’. The track builds itself up over a short, addictive bass segment which repeats throughout the track. As the intensity gradually increases, we’re led to an explosive section comprised of effect-heavy, higher-pitched guitars and expansive cymbal crashes topped over with a steady single-compass bass drumbeat. ‘Hogwash and Balderdash’, the shortest track with just around two and a half minutes, embraces the punkier side of the band. Even though it is enjoyable overall, it lacks that wow factor that the remainder of the album so expertly showcases.

Cavalcade saves the best for last. As it all comes to a close, we’re left with the 10 most beautiful, transcendental minutes of the whole album. ‘Ascending Forth’, as the title overtly states, is like having your senses ascend through the atmosphere, only to be held there by a splendid combination of bright harmonies. By the end, a crescendo begins to erupt as Greep’s hitherto disruptive voice develops into majestic singing. Saxophones and trombones join in, and Simpson ups the pace on the drums. As it all reaches an inevitable climax, the curtains close, and sound ceases.

Cavalcade can be streamed or purchased here.

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