Album Review: black midi – Cavalcade (2021, Rough Trade)

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Does anyone ever wonder if the authors of Cole’s Notes read themselves in old age to marvel at how beautifully complex, deep, and in-tune with all manifest faculties they once were?

Whether chanting (“Diamond Stuff”), traversing alternate pasts (“Marlene Dietrich”), or narrating a seemingly terrifying future a la Hieronymus Bosch (“John L”), black midi disembodies itself from space-time, climbs the throne of objective observer, describes its perspective back to you in the metaphoric language of the French opera cakes, and asks you to stay Zen and not attempt to understand.

Post-punk Buddhist monks might be a suitable descriptor. For what it’s worth, in the absence of those potential metaphors, the delivery vehicle that is Cavalcade still sounds like the soundtrack to a quasi-meta-movie called Being Johnny Cash-ovich. A thickly rhotic, faux American accent might have intended to cultivate an exuberant art deco ambiance to contrast the frenzied, post-post wouldn’t-give-a-rats-tail about traditions and forms instrumentation. Yet both still follow a stream of consciousness style that bend and stretch together. I observe that except for the middle 5/6, every even number on the album is softer and every odd number, odd and harshly dissonant. But in a sequence of less than 10, that hypothesis might well have a p-value of 1.0.

The album seems pleased with itself and stands in proud extroversion like a white-hot thermite covered highway billboard for modern-day Freemasonry – as if the album cover ever cast a shadow of a doubt. But the many elements of the album were continually pleasant to discover. The guitar hooks, the propulsive percussion and arrangements are always decisively clever. But I can do without the vocals and the lyrics that lend a layer of unnecessary sleaze, like some brownish organic ooze that interferes with the otherwise well-honed precision of the instrumental play. Cavalcade is merely mysterious and never incoherent, always perfectly able to paint a vivid picture. It is the clear results of careful craftsmanship, even though it carries the appearance of a rummaging mess of a jam session.

On repeated listening, however, the album is slower and harder than most to savour and digest in whole. You will either like it, have little opinion of it, or must reflect and then perform your decision on either of the two options when asked. In that sense, it’s built to be a museum piece that confronts. It attracts moths and critics to its ghostly flames without ever causing a stir with bees and plebeians. And when an album ends itself with an extracurricular multi-instrumental major key crescendo, that aim and aptitude for critical consumption is so patently conspicuous as to be circular. It is not built for a lazy, afternoon couch listening with your neighbor’s 2-year-old stomping opposite your ceiling. Unless that kid learns how to tap dance like Gene Kelly only to listen to this album in 70 years time and metaphorically lament his youth. Little Punk.

Posted on by Gary in Albums

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