Don’t get me wrong, I love some of the pompous snark The Financial Times tosses out there but their recent barbs at Black Midi were definitely flung in the wrong direction. Stick with shaming the rich and shameless, shall we, FT? Leave the struggling musos alone. In this case Black Midi, who rock with the wide-eyed audacity of The Clash (“We aren’t that talented but we try hard”), only with Aqualung vocals and deceptively neanderthal percussion not unlike how John Bonham would have sounded had he lived in a one-bedroom apartment instead of a moated castle. I guess there’s a splash of early, weird Bowie going on here too. Black Midi is all over the place. They aren’t easy to define, which drives places like The Financial Times crazy, and also which makes them equal parts exciting and frustrating, but when the Midis are on they are truly ON.
See, what Black Midi are doing here is a thing that bands generally no longer do, at least bands in the spotlight, without some sense of irony or overarching agenda. And what they are doing is rocking out. Hard. With abandon. And they’re doing it with a truly bizarre mix of arrangements and odd vocal intonations. It’s like one of those obscure tomes from a lesser-known Beat that you come across is specialty stores, just a flow of words with no direction, all in lower case and sans punctuation, that nonetheless hits you harder than Kerouac or Ginsberg.
The weirdness starts with the name.Black Midi, is derived from the Japanese music genre known as Black MIDI. I’ve looked into it, and I don;t understand it at all, but it has something to do with this in case you’re interested:
Live, the Midis band stands in linear formation with zero adherence to traditional rock aesthetics, yet cast forth a roar of insouciance that could be coming from ten of any one of their actual plugged in instruments.
The guitar playing is erratic but hits upon the right notes or riffs every 45 seconds or so. The vocalist sounds like a particularly petulant Craig Finn, warbling and running off onto strange angles that seemingly have nothing to do with the melody lines being played, but the whole unwieldy enterprise somehow continues to function, most likely having a lot to do with the deep, deceptively laid back percussion that can only serve as anchor for so long, often breaking out mid-jam to rule the rest of the track. In this forgiving-edited KEXP session they leave their songs untitled. It’s just one example of the type of enigmatic behavior that will always turn off places like The Financial Times.
This shit is far more abstract and challenging than the average “Please allow us to please you!” up and coming “indie” act gracing the KEXP stage. Check out how they kick off that one unnamed song with phone recorded maniacal musings. At times the vocals seem to be from a particularly complicated dead language. This is exquisitely art-damaged, naively challenging music of the most pure variety.
So what’s next for our Midis? Well, in the condescending British class conscious negativity style of the FT:
“All that excitement has netted them a record deal with venerable indie label Rough Trade, which releases their debut album, Schlagenheim, this week. But it also places an unhelpful set of expectations on the London quartet.”
My take? Congrats to a young, fresh, truly challenging band walking fully apart from any semblance of peerage. I hope the Rough Trade deal goes well for you and look forward to being confused and delighted by your exceptionally strange music for years to come.