ALBUM REVIEW: Black Midi’s ‘Schlagenheim’ is a Promising Start

The exciting young experimentalists may have lost something when translating their frenetic live show to the studio.

Black Midi’s debut album is a more than promising start for the hyped experimental rock group, but it also leaves something to be desired. The young Brits have been making waves in the underground scene for around a year, with a jaw-dropping KEXP performance, some wild live shows (including one with Damo Suzuki, of CAN fame) and a few killer singles showing off the band’s complex rhythms and Geordie Greep’s odd vocal squawks. 

One of those singles, “Bmbmbm,” turns up on this album, with its grooving bassline and Greep’s repeated proclamations of a woman who “moves with a purpose… what a magnificent purpose,” before moving into a wonderfully atonal climax. The song’s mix of half-serious energy and technical proficiency put Black Midi on the map, but it seems the band couldn’t bring all of that charisma to a 44-minute album. 

Schlagenheim feels a bit one-dimensional across its entire run, which detracts from its ability to truly captivate the listener. However, that doesn’t stop this album from featuring some killer tracks. Songs like “953” are filled with twists and turns that never let up, while songs like “Bmbmbm,” “Speedway,” and “Near DT, MI” are the most unique, benefiting from linear structures that allow the band to fully pursue one aspect of their sound, rather than cramming in as many ideas as they can. Granted, songs like “Western” excel greatly because of black midi’s attempt to condense as much as they can into one song, but that’s only because its 8-minute runtime gives it many phases to breathe. 

Pacing is the only thing Black Midi seems not to have mastered; the performances on this album, especially Morgan Simpson’s impeccable drumming, are some of the best you’ll hear all year. The abstract lyrics, which convey simple concepts with grandiose and often disturbing figurative language, are a perfect match for Greep’s vocals, which sway from a strangely accented mixture of singing, speaking and shouting, to schizophrenic screams and shrieks that bring the avant-garde vocals of Diamanda Galas to a math rock context. Though only manifesting itself in a few spots, the band’s fusion of electronic and live instrumentation is tasteful and incredibly satisfying to hear. 

The production is polished, but raw enough that the songs still excite—but I can’t help but feel that transferring their songs (many of which debuted live before they were officially released) from the stage to the studio did suck some of the life out of them. 

The unfortunate pacing of this album dampens Black Midi’s chaotic spirit, which leads this album to function better as a crop of some great songs rather than a front-to-back listen. All criticism aside, Schlagenheim is a more than impressive debut that leaves me anticipating how they might improve on future studio efforts. 

Score: 🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧/5

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