The difficult question with Black Midi was always: are you listening to them in order to admire them, or because you actually enjoy the music they make? By which I mean when you’ve finished listening to them is it a sense of admiration which lingers in the mind, or are you captivated by one or another of their songs? Previously it has tended to be the former – and there is an awful lot to admire. If you add superlative musicianship to a certain witty and anarchic imagination, you end up with this rather deranged, occasionally irritating, millennial mash-up of styles, where jazz fusion meets post-punk, James Brown, Beefheart, clever prog and pretty much anything else which, however briefly, flits through the consciousness of their auteur, Geordie Greep.
Now, though, they have become grandly cinematic and even added a new weapon to their arsenal – propa songs. It is the tendency of all bands today to cleave towards the epic but Midi do this without the usual self-consciousness and only where it fits with the trajectory of the song. The staccato stabs of brass are still there, so too the jagged funk. But now we have tunes and Greep’s stream-of- consciousness lyricism has become a little more focused. There are some tales you can bear to hear and repeat, such as the hilarious swansong of a one-time star, ‘27 Questions’. There is even country, on the pedal steel-coated ‘Still’, even if there are one or two time signatures within that might not have commended themselves to, say, Hank Williams.
In short, this is about as good, and inventive, as modern rock music gets.