Cavalcade is black midi’s second full-length album, following on from 2019’s spellcheck’s-nightmare of an album, Schlagenheim. They have also released a clutch of singles and a couple of really excellent live albums. That last point is important because the band are very different propositions live and in the studio.
The band formed when all four members were studying at the BRIT School, a performing arts and technology school in Croydon, which has an alumnus including Adel, Amy Winehouse, Kae Tempest, Kate Nash and many, many more. I say four members, but one – guitarist and vocalist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin – sat out this recording due to mental health issues.
The three that remain, Geordie Greep (vocals, guitar), Cameron Picton (bass, synths, samples) and Morgan Simpson (drums), are joined by touring members, while production duties are undertaken by John “Spud” Murphy in Dublin. The aim was to produce an album that was neither lo-fi and noisy or pure audiophile high-fidelity, but both at the same time.
They also adopted a less improvised approach than with their first offering, with songs written before the recording sessions rather than born of in-studio jams. Lovers of the first album can rest easy though, even with this more crafted approach black midi have still produced an album as full of life, passion, noise and the occasional musical volte-face as their debut.
The chaotic opening of ‘John L’. (all stop start, crazy rhythms and layer upon layer of instruments) is immediately followed by the smooth, almost 70s sounding swing of ‘Marlene Dietrich’. A track suggesting nothing less than a Shirly Bassey outtake from a James Bond soundtrack. It’s all lush strings a sepia-toned romance, and it’s a fantastically engaging piece of music.
Other standout tracks include ‘Dethrone’d, which has an 80s funk vibe of bass and saxophone, before building up and breaking down, and the fast-paced, choppiness of ‘Chondromalacia Patella’ (runner’s knee, if you weren’t aware), which benefits mightily from the awesome drumming skills of Morgan Simpson.
Greep’s voice sounds smoother and less affected on this album – which may help broaden their audience. And it’s particularly obvious on tracks like ‘Marlene Dietrich’ and the epic closer of ‘Ascending Froth’; ten minutes of drop-dead beauty to sign off with.
As you have hopefully realised, this review comes down heavily on the I LOVE BLACK MIDI side of the argument, but, even if previous offerings have left you cold, confused or a little bit angry, Cavalcade is well worth 50 minutes of your time.