Black Midi have earned themselves a reputation as one of the most exciting bands in their hometown of London. Playing what could be broadly described as post-punk, the young quartet has made its name so far on just two official singles, a handful of intriguing performance videos, and a reportedly stellar live show. Today, they released “Crow’s Perch,” their third studio-recorded song ever.
The hype machine for rock bands in the UK is infamous, and Black Midi are starting to get a taste of it: a recent NME headline called them “the ‘best band in London’ nobody knows a thing about,” (the “best band” bit was quoted from their contemporaries Shame); their showcases were among the hot tickets of this year’s SXSW; and they’re playing Pitchfork Festival before releasing an album, or even an EP. But Black Midi don’t sound anything like the boozy, dancey, Strokes-y rock of yore that you might be picturing. “Crow’s Perch” is more like the Fall, if the Fall had a virtuosic free jazz drummer behind the kit, or like stateside art rockers Palm, if Palm lost their interest in pop melodies and gave the mic to a drunk-sounding teenager instead. Black Midi are genuinely strange, in other words, and also good at what they do.
“Crow’s Perch” begins inauspiciously, with cymbal taps and shimmering guitar chords a la In a Silent Way, grafted onto a throbbing industrial bass line. When the groove finally kicks in, it’s even more disorienting than the spacey stuff that came before, and quickly begins to overheat and melt down. In live videos, drummer Morgan Simpson is a clear focal point of the band’s energy, and “Crow’s Perch” is the first single to truly showcase him. He provides a new inflection on the rhythms with every passing measure, playing splashy fills when you expect steady beats, and vice versa. The vocals, delivered in a cadence somewhere between a drawl and a snarl, are nearly unintelligible, but the lines you can hear are intriguing: “I waited to lose, I heard the moans / I sat by the telephone, and it opened wide / A shoe size nine.” I think that’s what guitarist Geordie Greep is saying, anyway, sounding eerily bored, just before the song reaches its apocalyptic climax. As the music ramps up, he juxtaposes this mundanity against more openly disturbing lines: “If you mutilated, would you cry? / Would you cry for me?” The tension between the spastic energy of the playing and the creepy nihilism of the vocals is thrilling.
It’s possible that whatever comes next for Black Midi will confound even the fanbase they’re building now. A Stereogum piece describes a recent London show during which the quartet performed a set of “Pogues covers and video game theme songs” on accordion, flute, and banjo. It also includes quotes from the band that make it seem like they’re ready to overhaul their aesthetic completely, before most people have heard them in the first place. Black Midi just signed to Rough Trade, which also released their previous single (the comparatively restrained and groovy “Speedway“) so it’s probably safe to assume they have an album coming sometime in the not-too-distant future. Who knows what it will sound like?
Maybe Black Midi really are some kind of next big thing. But given the starkly non-commercial nature of the music, and the fact that they’ve released so little of it so far, it seems kind of unfair to the band to position them that way. More evenhandedly, they are a group of four prodigiously talented musicians, applying their anarchic internet-age sensibility to their country’s long and proud tradition of intellectual noise-splattered punk. If the buzz behind them becomes a little unnervingly fervent, it also seems unlikely to carry them to anything resembling large-scale rock stardom. One gets the sense that they’d prefer it that way.
Hear “Crow’s Perch” (and watch its vaguely disquieting collage of a video) below.