Experimental rock band black midi doesn’t take themselves too seriously. In an interview with TheNeedleDrop, frontman Geordie Greep (looking like an absurd parody of Patrick Bateman with a debonair suit and slick-back hair) says how its all a bit of a laugh, really. Referring to their freakish, intricate song ‘John L’, he admits that “it’s just stupid isn’t it, the whole riff sounds stupid I think, but it’s kinda badass as well.”
I’m always struck by this likeable attitude when I listen to the band. They impress you with their virtuosity, yet they’re willing to undermine it with stupidity; with a Looney Tunes sound of a falling bomb that levels out into spluttering fart at the end of ‘Chondromalacia Patella’; or an absurd babyish cackle from Greep. In live performance too, the band will be jamming free jazz whilst Greep, and touring pianist Seth Evans, start putting each other in headlocks. Broken up by saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi, he blows his whistle to referee the musicians. The stage becomes a circus.
It reminds me of Mozart in Shaffer’s play then film ‘Amadeus’. The composer is a silly child who jokes about farts while casually churning out achingly beautiful Piano Concertos. Mozart infamously composed an angelic vocal piece named ‘Difficile lectu’, roughly: ‘Lick my arse’. This exact blending of skill and stupidity is what makes black midi so distinctively enjoyable.
Their most recent album title, ‘Cavalcade’, perfectly encapsulates their style. We can imagine a grand regal procession stretching out of the band’s mind. But adorning this elaborate ceremony are absurd sounds and ridiculous characters. While black midi’s lyrical content is dark, it is cartoonish and crude in equal measure. We hear stories of an overthrown maniacal tyrant named ‘John L’, or a gun-wielding dwarf who shoots a boxer mid-fight in ‘Sugar/Tzu’, while two chickens called ‘Hogwash and Balderdash’ are criminals on the run. All this is over music so grandiose at one moment yet touchingly gentle the next. It’s chaotic – and hilarious.
On this topic, Black Country, New Road come to mind. The two bands are friends and collaborators which shows in their shared commitment to humour. ‘Chaos Space Marine’ off their recent album, ‘Ants from Up There’, is a complex song, but it sounds like a sequence of sonic jokes. Bassist Tyler Hyde refers to it as a, “stupid, funny joke style of playing” as melodramatic strings whirr and staccato show-tuney keys stutter in a 3-minute flurry of fun. Like black midi, they too use their musical skill for comic effect.
While I can understand how the ironic winking of virtuosos like black midi could be exasperating to some, I find it preferable to the swaggering sincerity of a Liam Gallagher. Looking down on a crowd of adoring fans like some God is the exact sort of rock and roll cliché that black midi are trying to deflate with their mock-heroic style. They will give you music that is dramatic, beautiful, wildly complex but ultimately silly and fun. As a fan, you feel connected. As though these songs are all part of an elaborate in-joke, and you’re lucky enough to be in on it.
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