It would be very easy for any band after being nominated for a Mercury Prize for their debut effort to take this as confirmation from the gods that they now have a winning formula and should not veer off course.
Not Black Midi, who has used Covid as “an opportunity, individually, to go down rabbit holes further” and produce a more structured LP for their sophomore return. By using John ‘Spud’ Murphy as producer, Black Midi aimed to give an individual voice to the motley of instruments, including the cello, saxophone, piano, bouzoukis, Marxophone, flute, lap steel and synths which the band felt got lost on their debut Schlagenheim.
From the powerful funk opening of “John L”, one is caught hook, line and sinker like a moth to LED’s. The world of rock, funk and jazz work harmoniously as if they are operating in a post messianic age of platonic love and unity to produce a product that excites, causes palpitations and makes the listener feel as if they are witnessing the story of Ben Hur as a real, unrehearsed event with an unwritten ending. “John L” is truly cascading and cacophonic where its genius resides in its disciplined structure whilst also appearing to be improvised like a pre-famous Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk set before authors as Kerouac brought them popular acclaim through their writings.
One then enters ‘Marlene Dietrich’ with a heart rate of more than 120 BPM, which the listener can also hear as the quiescent serenading guitar about the legendary cabaret singer who leads singer Geordie Greep (who usually sounds like an ideal hybrid of Nick Cave and Caleb Followill) charmingly croons over with non- sleazy/suggestive lyrics to almost Bacharach orchestrations with an injection of melancholy bassoons.
From the serenading, tranquil and sanguine, a song about runners knee ‘Chondromalacia Patela’ explodes with passionate riffs of “Freak Out” inspired funk guitar with dramatic intermittent thumping crashing breaks and distressed saxophone, which then transcends into guitar-led jazz riffs with piano. Far from being concerned about cramp or limping, with arpeggiated guitars, one is again elatedly lost in a labyrinth vision with rapidly rising BPM levels as if one is on the cusp of witnessing something which abruptly ends just before the curtain is fully opened. There is no time for disappointment as the funk bass takes a new jazz turn with “Slow”, where the saxophone is gloriously amplified with bassist Cameron Picton taking on vocals.
“Diamond Stuff” begins with a quiescent, mystical, calming and meditative guitar intro producing the soundscape to a bunch of innocent young friends going out for a day of exploring away from home for the first time. A perceived tension appears to develop as if there is a hungry wolf or insincere stranger nearby, which is then matched by an equal force of protection with prog organ. The two forces appear to end in stalemate. Did the children avoid harm? If they did, was there someone to help them?
“Dethroned”, despite its smooth jazz inception maelstrom of noise where the guitars rule, brings the best elements of rock music throughout the ages to such a degree that an orchestra was not required. ‘Hogwash And Balderdash’ is an unlikely disciplined Mad Hatter of crazy speed, funk energy and rock guitars which suddenly bursts into a few seconds of industrial noise before collapsing into the concluding track. ‘Ascending Forth’ when a quiescent folk guitar intro takes over. This almost ten minute’s masterpiece is in some respects like an extension of ‘Marlene Dietrich’ but with added bursts of nervous jazz and string driven cacophonous energy whilst optimistically offering the hope of spiritual elevation.
The Genius of Cavalcade is the occasional illusion of improvisation amidst a deftly structured and disciplined conceptual sound. To truly appreciate this LP, Cavalcade must be listened to in the chronological order set by the band. Cavalcade is both a testament to the successful evolution in music and that the war against banality, instant individual single streamed tracks can be won and that the sacrosanctity of the concept LP can continue to triumph and be enjoyed without skipping or shuffling the tracks.
With Cavalcade, Black Midi has more than accomplished its mission statement “to make really theatrical, cinematic, expansive albums”.