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black midi - Cavalcade CD (album) cover

CAVALCADE

black midi

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.01 | 129 ratings

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mental_hygiene
5 stars Cavalcade is one of the most refreshing albums I've heard in 2021. I first knew black midi because they used to be extremely hyped up before they released their debut Schlagenheim. I was actually not much of a fan of that album, and to put it best it felt like music that was meant for the interactivity of live performance without the interactivity. However, I loved seeing their live performances. I've been waiting for the right moment for a few months, and I'm incredibly grateful that it came because this album has exceeded any expectations I had for it. Cavalcade is beautifully deranged, and surprisingly refined in its chaos. There are moments that evoke the chamber prog chaos of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd, the aggression and dynamics of King Crimson, and generally a vocal delivery that border between sprechgesang, the low-life personas of Tom Waits, and the hazed delivery from some certain Krautrock bands (mainly thinking of Amon Duul II).

The opening track, John L, is the most like past Black Midi. The incoporation of violin brings me to Starless and Bible Black era King Crimson, specifically the Great Deciever. The most shocking thing to me was the moment of silence that happens at the peak of tension in this song. There's an insane music video for this song, too. The lyricism of John L is ominous and describes a cult leader in a way that is truly poetic and refreshing. The music video is a work of art, featuring an elaborate dance troupe worshipping a monolithThis is immediately contrasted with Marlene Dietrich, which is the first ballad of this record. That's right, this avant-prog album has jazz-rock ballads on it! It's a song constructed conceptually around the titular actress. It's almost an ode to her as well as a character piece and prelude to Ascending Forth

Chrondomalacia Patella is the next song, and also the formal term for knee pain! This song is one of my favorites from this because of how it develops into something so brutally intense by the end. There's a scratchy guitar riff that builds with the intense drum and bass work on this album. The drumming is especially so tight and coordinated to the point it makes the rapid tempo and avant-garde passages feel natural in delivery. The dynamics of black midi as an ensemble are brilliant on this record. The breakdown at the end is insane, and the synthesized noise that ends it is one of those incredibly iconic sound gestures that can only be done once. Bringing back more king crimson comparisons, it reminds me of the transition of Talking Drum into Larks Tongues in Aspic. This song immediately transitions into Slow, which begins with a really intense groove. This song reminds me of In Rainbows radiohead, but it really is something else. The bursts of atmosphere that happen at the peaks of this song are so well executed. The guitar work throughout this album is really remarkable too. In an era where we abuse overdrive and gain, the guitar sounds are often completely clean. In general, I think this album beats schlagenheim just for how good it sounds.

Diamond Stuff takes us into another dynamic break with a tantric and almost ambient introduction. It's extremely beautiful and otherworldly. There's an element of chamber music in this song that gives it a rich array of sounds. The textures on this record are so captivating to my ears because of how they direct your ears between different aesthetics: the cold avant-prog/RIO type of full-ensemble chaos and the jazz and early 1900s influenced culture. At the height of Diamond Stuff this is basically psychedelic post-rock.

The next song is another character piece. Dethroned builds around the anxiety and desperation of defeat in the form of a man who's experiencing an existential crisis after a moment of defeat. Fittingly, this is a very intense song with more spastic riffage. The scratchy and delayed guitar lines are really cool because they built the whole song around it. This is followed by the intense Hogwash and Balderdash, a song framed around two runaway convicts. The lyricism is particularly reminiscant of 80s Tom Waits, especially from songs like Singapore that are chaotic and zany. The drama on these two songs makes for a really engaging listening experience. I think overall, the storytelling and the dynamics are what make this album miles above anything Black Midi has done before.

Ascending Forth is the epic of this album, and feels like a natural conclusion to the themes described in each song. There's so much depth to how they use recurring themes, textures, and in this case, chord progressions with meta- commentary that serves the purpose of its tale and also brings Ascending Forth to the next level. I don't mean to weigh this review down with more useless comparisons, but the fact that this song evokes Genesis for me only serves to prove that this is one of the most well informed and well written albums of this year. It's not trying to be prog, or trying to be retro in any common sense. It evokes pre-rock popular music and combines it with intense avant-garde and even modern classical influences. The drama of Cavalcade is extremely engaging and refined as we hear of all these characters and their downfalls. Unlike a lot of avant-prog music, there are moments here that are legitimately heartwarming and tragic. It's very rare that a band is able to so effectively capture an entire album as a thematic arc through lyricism and dynamicism. More importantly, it doesn't feel like it's grounded in some far off dimension. Cavalcade takes on a lot of early 1900s modernist themes and brings it into the 21st century as a succinct 40-some minute work rather than just an avant-prog album. I think this is easily one of the most exciting, relevant, and frankly interesting developments in the avant-prog, noise rock, and math rock world in quite a while. Whereas some bands never capture their debut again, black midi has essentially spayed their first album by showing their full hand of music making. Even though this review is a bit tentative on my part, I feel like this album will be a stand-by for repeat listening in the future. Without question, I think this is a prog essential!

mental_hygiene | 5/5 |

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