Black Midi - Hellfire Music Album Reviews

Black Midi - Hellfire Music Album Reviews
The preposterously talented English band’s third record is pitched between clinical precision and crazed abandon.

Black midi thrive in the half-light between serious and silly. It’s just fun, man, Geordie Greep and his mates have repeatedly said in response to earnest questions about their mission, their message, their “responsibility” to carry forward the torch of prog rock. Words like “ridiculous” and “crazy” come up a lot in their interviews. “We’re just doing this stupid thing and somehow making the semblance of a living,” Greep said on Radio Primavera recently, when promoting the band’s third album, Hellfire.

When compared with their inky-black music, which throbs with a terrible intensity, Greep's insistence on “fun” seems like special pleading. Of course you are meant to take this shit seriously. There are nine or ten tabs open in any ten seconds of black midi music—themes, sub-themes, recurring characters, historical references. Their compositions don’t feel arranged so much as welded together at impossible angles according to the precise calculations of aeronautical engineers. The lyrics are dense and specific enough to wonder if the soldier character named Tristan Bongo (from “Welcome to Hell”) might have served under the homophobic, screaming captain from “Eat Men Eat,” or if the diamond miner who died and became a diamond himself (from Cavalcade’s “Diamond Stuff”) might have been buried in the dirt beneath the feet of the post-apocalyptic preacher and cult leader of “John L.” You can find multiple Reddit threads devoted to why Greep keeps mentioning anteaters. Music that vibrates at this frequency simply does not get made without lunatic commitment.

But there is a knowing wink buried within the music’s hairpin turns and dissonances. The members have been playing together since their teens, and their technical command, by now, borders on preposterous. The absurdity of high-level performance, the cosmic humor in any mortal human growing this proficient at basically anything, radiates from their music. In the right light, black midi sounds less like the work of zealots and more like kids who have beaten every level and are now trying again with the controller upside down.

The curtain opens on Hellfire with a creaky, arthritic march rhythm straight out of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Along with Cavalcade’s ode to Marlene Dietrich, the moment underscores the hint of Weimar cabaret in their music, with its exaggerated gestures and cheery bad faith. As a vocalist, Greep’s motor-mouthed yammer channels old black-and-white newsreels and wartime propaganda films. It’s the voice of the classic Hollywood flim-flammer, the confidence man, the “trouble right here in River City” type. Greep’s lyrics often cast a jaundiced eye on fraudulent performers and their fickle audiences: On Cavalcade’s final track, a composer named Markus attempts to overcome writer’s block by writing 65 ascending fourths in a row because “everyone loves” them, only to be dragged out in chains. On Hellfire’s finale “27 Questions,” Greep portrays a preening actor named Freddie Frost, who prances about the stage and trills pseudo-profundities to a credulous audience. Once you look for them, you find rib jabs everywhere in black midi’s music, indicating that all this just might be, at least in part, a put-on.

As they’ve progressed, black midi have become increasingly interested in play-acting and costume as songwriting prompts. A lot of their material, to hear them tell it, begins with some version of the thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we tried to write a ___?” “When you want to do something original...use something as a model or inspiration that you know you definitely can’t do," Greep has said. “Your failure will be interesting.” You can hear this impulse at work throughout Hellfire, as they offer mad-scientist takes on country songs (the pedal-steel and Hammond organ washes in “Still”) and even tropicália: The first two minutes of “Eat Men Eat” sounds for all the world like Caetano Veloso—wry, knowing, weightless. No pose lasts for more than a minute or two. The rhythm section on “Still” convulses repeatedly, and Cameron Picton’s vocal melody takes some intriguing, nearly Sondheim left turns, while “Eat Men Eat” careens from its quiet opening into a climax of screaming horns, like a large land mammal dying painfully.

Three albums in, it’s only growing more thrilling to watch the group navigate these hard swerves, each one arriving at a higher velocity, executed with even more breath-sucking precision. The songs don’t segue so much as upend each other like a procession of spiky blue Mario Kart shells. But as exhilarating as the highs are on Hellfire—the rampaging 32nd-note riff on “Sugar/Tzu” triggers gasp-laughs, for example—the world that Greep details and populates with his bustling characters can grow wearying, over time, in its emotional aridity. “Posterity will show me to be/The greatest the world has ever seen, a genius among nonentities,” blares Greep on “Sugar/Tzu”—a great line, but also a sneering pose he repeats one too many times throughout Hellfire: “Idiots are infinite, thinking men numbered,” he mutters on “The Race Is About to Begin.” This is the kind of insight you arrive at when you are 22 and most of the thoughts you have are concerned with making sure the world sees how smart you are.

There’s a deep suspicion—common to the sort of young, intense intellectuals who find themselves drawn to listening to or making complicated music—that surges of uncontrollable emotion are suspect, dangerous, in need of further, possibly forensic, inspection. That process of forensic inspection often feels like the same bloodshot-eyed force powering black midi’s music. Greep has a vibrato velvety enough to make the words “prostrate, supine” (from “The Defence”) sing like a Tom Jones ballad. But his crooning sounds the way a boy dancing awkwardly at a middle school dance looks; the movements are there, but hiding behind uneasy scare quotes that betray a distrust of strong feelings, of pleasure mechanisms.

There is also some wild-eyed Scott Walker energy at work in black midi somewhere—lyrics about military nightmare scenarios, the sort of acrid theater of being a crooner, the exaggerated Kabuki nature of all the pulled faces—the grimace, the scream. Greep will utter out-of-nowhere, completely non-idiomatic put-downs like “some people are as useless as lids on a fish’s eyes”—that’s a Scott Walker line if ever I’ve heard one. Like some of Walker’s more experimental later work, black midi’s music can feel curiously stunted and two-dimensional, despite its metatextual layers and fiendish complexity. If the intellect on Hellfire is feverish, the emotional temperature often dips to morgue levels; their music is better equipped to comment on emotion than to feel it, or express it. They continue to get over, as they always do, on pure conviction, riding the knife’s edge between clinical precision and crazed abandon.

Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Black Midi - Hellfire Music Album Reviews Black Midi - Hellfire Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, July 22, 2022 Rating: 5

0 comments:

Post a Comment