London quartet Black Midi gained maximum buzz with a minimal presence in the press or online. Shortly after graduating from the BRIT School, the performing arts institute that also served as an incubator for artists like Adele and Ed Sheeran, the members of Black Midi began attracting attention through their untethered live shows and a slow release of new material. Before debut album Schlagenheim arrived, the band existed largely on word-of-mouth buzz and a reputation grown off of three or four songs. Schlagenheim delivers on the hype surrounding the band without seeming to be aware of it whatsoever. Decidedly studio creations, the nine songs on the album feel meticulously constructed but still convey the nonstop rush of energy from Black Midi's explosive live shows. Singer Geordie Greep's unconventional singing voice is never lacking confidence, and he scream-talks over hypnotically busy blasts of noise and rhythm like album opener "953" and the grinding pulsation of "Near DT, MI." The wash of frenetic playing sometimes threatens to overwhelm the songs, but the deep roots of Cameron Picton's minimal post-punk bass lines ground the frantic impulses of his bandmates. Picton takes over vocals here and there, as with the bubbly but awkward pop of "Speedway." Feral playing, willful dissonance, and lyrics about an eroding socioeconomic landscape all place Black Midi firmly in a post-punk bracket, but that's a lazy classification. While Greep's guttural voice will no doubt get endless comparisons to Mark E. Smith, his vocals follow no discernible blueprint for their alien expressions. Similarly, the songs have less in common with Wire or obscure Factory Records acts than they do with perpetually uncomfortable indie rock bands of the late '90s and early 2000s like Slint, Shellac, and Unwound. With all the bandmembers still in their late teens and early twenties, Schlagenheim holds the restless and indefatigable quest for new directions that young bands at their best can tap into. The eight-minute "Western" is a great example of this, shifting quickly from mellow guitar figures to Deerhoof-esque syncopated blasts of punk and back, with a banjo gently plucking in the background. Less than a minute after the song ends, the next tune has already shifted through ambient textures into quasi-industrial assaults of synth bass. Endlessly imaginative and purposefully fidgety, Black Midi's debut is a colorful and shifting mass of ideas. The level of driven shape-shifting that flows throughout would suggest a massive discography where no two albums are alike. As a first chapter, Schlagenheim crackles with the same excitement as groundbreaking records that came before it did when expanding the known boundaries of experimental sounds.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas