Contrary to the album’s title, this is not the first time that keyboardist May Kershaw, saxophonist Lewis Evans, guitarist Luke Mark, drummer Charlie Wayne bassist Tyler Hyde and violinist Georgia Ellery have performed together. However, it is in-fact the first time they have performed under this particular name. It is important to mention this before anyone moans about them appearing out of nowhere or being ‘industry plants’. Nevertheless, BCNR have made a name for themselves as part of the South London gig scene over the last two years, joining the ranks of Squid, Black Midi and Goat Girl and relentlessly working despite the obvious COVID restrictions.
Instrumentally it would be easy to lazily pile them in as Slint worship (Which is referenced on “Science Fair” since music journalists refused to shut the fuck up about comparisons towards them.) but the outcome tends more to veer towards acts like Duster, Low or even the later material from The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. This of course is only a framework for trying to define what they soundlike because they’ve already formed their own sound without needing to adhear to any lazy Pitchfork worship.
In keeping with being unconventional, the opener is a five minute organic jam, full of lingering repetition yet accessible beats and sharp melodies. In a live scenario you could only imagine how much this would hype an audience up before the collective takes the stage. It’s a reminder of that quote from Howard Moon of The Mighty Boosh that goes; “You hate jazz?, you fear jazz with its lack of rules.” This is exactly what he was on about.
Frontman Issac Wood’s delivery on many of these tracks comes across as wobbly, aggressive and unhinged. You can feel a sense of dread and anxiety coursing through the phrasing of these narratives, ranging from mildly sorrowful on “Athens, France” to roaring full blown melt downs later on in the record. “Track X” and “Science Fair” are the most narratively sound and perhaps as a result bring the highest sense of individual identity. Ironic considering that the unpredictability of where these songs take you can make it hard to appreciate what role each member will play, which often requires multiple listens to achieve full appreciation.
One minute you might be lulled with a pretty guitar line or alluring violin section, the next it might feel like someone’s stabbed you in the gums with a screwdriver. Wood’s lyrics often feel like someone writing fragments of thoughts on the iPhone notes app before forgetting what they were actually thinking about. Like watching a David Lynch film, trying to always find clear meanings in each sentiment will ultimately frustrate anyone trying to read between the lines with notions such as; “Now all that I became must die before the forum thread, the cursed vultures feed and spread the seeded daily bread.”
Fans who’ve been following BCNR for a while may understandably be disappointed that two of the six tracks on here are reworked versions of previous singles, however there are polishes and vocal inflections that at times can change the songs overall delivery. On ‘Sunglasses’ for example, the warm, fuzzy intro chords leaning into the earworm melody is far more effective the the single version in the context of listening to this record in its entirety. Harrison sounds more like he’s accepting his fate of becoming a boring cunt like the father of his partner rather than screaming in denial. Even the line “The absolute pinnacle of British engineering, I am so ignorant now”, oozes with melodic allure rather than a sardonic quip. As the cacophony of instruments blend into a breakdown and tempo change, his character morphs into the very same normie that he feared he would turn into, all whilst failing at any attempts to hide his insecurities. Think of that sunglasses emoji, but with tears streaming down its face.
8 minute closer ‘Opus’ is by far the most theatrical of offerings on here. It finds its balance between sounding like a sadcore indie offering in the softer sections and a mariachi band set on fire in the louder parts. The result is a bleak, tumultuous journey where our character reaches the end of his relationship. Evans saxophone work here is flawless, building up tension in the slower sections as it becomes a fiery release between each verse. With Harrison’s final, broken vocals with the lines “What we built must fall from the rising flames”, the sentiment that nothing is built to last comes to its conclusion. The final melody in particular resonates and sticks to your very core.
Rather than trying to guess what Black Country, New Road will do next, it’s probably best to enjoy this meandering experience without any predictions. For The First Time is a phenomenal debut that will hopefully secure the group’s future for years to come.