Black Country , New Road – Ants From Up There Album Review

Ninja Tune – 2022

Black Country, New Road offer up a stunning sophomore album in the form of Ants From Up There, which comes in the wake of lead singer Isaac Wood announcing his departure from the band. Whilst the future of the band is unclear, Wood has signed off from the band with some of his greatest vocal and lyrical performances to date, ensuring that his presence will never be forgotten.

After their second single “Sunglasses”, released back in 2019, a whirlwind of post-rock inspired guitar sections blended with spoken-word post punk witticism that explodes in a frenzy of blaring saxophones, the band were on everyone’s radar. Known for their notoriously good live shows, the band took to the studio to record Mercury Prize nominated For The First Time, released 5th February 2021. Now, almost exactly a year later, the band have to released Ants From Up There on 4th February 2022.

Album two feels like the natural progression for a band like Black Country, New Road to take. They have refined their sound, incorporating more texture and emotion than their previous effort, yet still retaining their distinctiveness, which can be heard in the harmonies of the strings which compliment the post-rock influenced guitars. With the success of their debut, the band have not hesitated to get stuck into making something that they feel is more cohesive, an album that saxophonist Lewis Evans asserts every member loves “every single moment,” containing “a bit more of a musical through-line,” making it “feel more like an album.”

Just like For The First Time, Black Country, New Road begin the album with a short instrumental piece, entitled “Intro”. The saxophone-led piece perfectly introduces the album’s ability to blend snappy instrumentation alongside a distinct tenderness that permeates throughout. The album then moves into a similarly peppy and upbeat “Chaos Space Marine”, a departure from BC, NR’s usual sound, yet Wood describes the creative process of the track as “a really fast, whimsical and silly approach – like throwing all the shit at the wall and just letting everything stick.” Although certainly not to the taste of all existing fans due to the track’s overly anthemic chorus and lively piano, the track demonstrates the band’s ability to not take themselves too seriously. However, the song is arguably the weakest on the album, and would potentially sound a lot more cohesive without it. A fun track on its own, amongst the album’s beautifully tender tracks and lyrical themes, “Chaos Space Marine” is lacking the emotionally powerful quality that every other track possesses.

“Concorde”, the album’s third track, and the second single to be released in anticipation for the album, is a gorgeous slow building track that transcends into an incredible explosion of saxophones and driving guitars. Lyrically, Wood explores humour with direct tenderness, moving from the comic yet painful “don’t tell me your hungry / cause, darling, I’m starving myself / And I heard your on Atkins as well,” to “I was made to love to you / can’t you tell?” in the space of a few seconds. It becomes prominent that failing relationships are a central theme on the album, which continues in “Bread Song”, a minimalistic soundscape driven by mellow guitars and keys to accompany the nervous strain in Wood’s voice. The track proves to be one of the band’s most attentive and delicate to date, with a standout performance from every member.

The album picks up some momentum with “Good Will Hunting”, which features caustic drums that pierce through the track alongside the repetitive keys, before building into a loud intensity matched by Wood’s vocals. In line with the band’s earlier tracks that reference musical icons from Kanye West to Richard Hell, Wood sings “she had Billie Eilish style,” which is repeatedly referred to throughout the album. However, it doesn’t pack the same humorous punch as “Leave Kanye out of this!” from ‘Sunglasses,’ instead coming of slightly rigid and cringy, undermining the far superior quality of Wood’s writing that is evident on the rest of the album.

The following track ‘Haldern” redeems the album from potentially sagging from the weight of “Chaos Space Marine” and “Good Will Hunting”. The track was originally improvised at Haldern Pop Festival in Germany and showcases the band’s immeasurable talent at working harmoniously together to create a song without much prior thought. Wood stated that “every now and then in the middle of a gig we’ll do some improvisation because it can be really fun. When we did it this time, we basically wrote a whole song, which is the first time we’ve ever done that.” Keys player May Kershaw shines on the track, bringing the rest of the instruments together to create a melancholically beautiful sound, which becomes punctuated by the crashing drums of Charlie Wayne. Wood’s writing truly shows its strengths here, opening the track by singing, “Ignore the hole I’ve dug again/ it’s only for the evening.”

A standout moment of the album is “Mark’s Theme”, a tribute to Evan’s late uncle Mark, who died a day before the release of For The First Time. The short piece is a phenomenal demonstration of the band’s classical training, a hauntingly beautiful and sentimental track that is unforgettable. You can only imagine that witnessing a performance of the track live would leave everyone stunned and transfixed by the mournful strings and saxophone that are some of the band’s finest instrumental work.

As the album reaches its final few tracks, “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” perfectly captures what the band seem to have been alluding to in interviews – that they are “trying to make [their] music really accessible.” The song balances a crowd-friendly chorus with gentle strings and nostalgic backing vocals that chime in near the end of the song, feeling like the musical equivalent of leaving the pub, buzzing off the excitement of catching up with old friends. This “accessibility” is not so evident on “Snowglobes”, a divisive track due to its intense and interfering drum solo that dominates the latter part of the track. However, the drums only elevate the track to greater heights, adding a crushingly hard impact to the song which is mainly intricate strings, sax, and guitars until this point. The drums roll like thunder behind Wood’s heart-breaking delivery, repeating the lines “God of weather, Henry knows/ Snowglobes don’t shake on their own,” with a raw intensity. Violins carry the track to even greater emotional depths, making it one of the album’s strongest tracks.

Finally, the album draws to a close with “Basketball Shoes”, almost thirteen minutes in length, and definitely the band’smagnum opus. If this is the last song we hear from Wood as a part of Black Country, New Road, he has left on an extraordinary high note. The song traverses differing terrains, parts explosive, parts euphoric, parts so incredibly emotional that you may wonder if they could ever top such a track. Wood states that the song is “the whole basis and blueprint for the album,” which is no surprise due to the indelible impact it leaves on all that hear it. The song has been a live fan-favourite for a while, so its official release comes with much anticipation. Divided into three parts, the song scratches every musical itch – erratic strings, immaculate post-rock guitar tones, and an astounding nostalgia-tinged emotional delivery from Wood, who screams the final verse in one of his most memorable vocal performances yet.

Black Country, New Road prove themselves to be one of the greatest British bands to have emerged over the past decade, constantly evolving and adapting with each track, delivering sheer amounts of emotion with every single string and guitar chord. Many of the band’s finest works are to be found on Ants From Up There. Bassist Tyler Hyde asserts that “It was such a pleasure to make. I’ve kind of accepted that this might be the best thing that I’m ever part of for the rest of my life,”and this couldn’t be more evident in these ten tracks.

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Kristian Bell – Backfire Album Review

Cable Code – 2021

Kristian Bell, best known for providing distinctive lead vocals and guitar for his grungy/psychedelic band The Wytches, has released his first solo album, entitled Backfire on the band’s own label Cable Code Records. Since the release of The Wytches’ debut album Annabel Dream Reader in 2014, the band have been consistently working with a DIY ethic that bleeds into their music perfectly, making it feel all the more genuine. The three albums and handful of EPs that the band have released since their formation have demonstrated Bell’s ability to perform with a raw and deranged sounding intensity, whilst at times retaining a strong tenderness and delicacy, the latter informing Bell’s debut.

In 2019 Bell and fellow bandmate Mark Breed released Stereo Buzz, under the aptly named Mark and Kristian Band, which took a distinctly softer approach than the sound of The Wytches, often weaving between slow, drawn-out psychedelic guitars and sprinklings of humour in the lyrics (for example “Smoke it to the Roach”). Sonically, Bell’s solo album is more reminiscent of this project, yet retains its own sense of individuality and maturity, showing drastic lyrical growth from the early days of The Wytches.

Album opener and lead single “That’s A Lovely Thing” is reminiscent of nostalgic 90s rock, seeping with a homemade sensitivity and warmth. The guitar tones paired with jolting drums combine perfectly to accompany Bell’s voice, which is well-suited to the overarching sentimental atmosphere. Another standout track is “Backfire”, which often feels like a deranged-sounding Foxygen track. Bell takes an approach that harks back to Annabel Dream Reader, allowing his voice to mutate and move through the track with little regard to sounding polished. This grunginess is equally addictive and mesmerising to listen to.

The album weaves through these moments of intensity with relaxed, melancholic tracks that feel like a musical representation of the days slowing down and drawing in at 4pm; Bell could not have chosen a better time to release the album. Tracks like “Have to Ask” and “Walking Song” demonstrate Bell’s ability to sing in an effortlessly higher and gentle pitch, accompanied by slow and strategic guitars. The textural palette of “Walking Song” is so intricately crafted alongside the sadness of Kristian’s voice, which makes it another memorable moment on Backfire.

The album could have benefitted from more songs with the same intensity of “Backfire” as opposed to the majority of the tracks having a similar tempo, which leaves the album feeling slightly stagnant in the middle. But fear not, the album picks itself up quickly, with “Spotlight” echoing the guitars of Mazzy Star, and the unforgettable “Dog in the Ditch” demonstrating rich albeit lugubrious story-telling.

Bell combines the melancholy sounds of influences such as Elliott Smith and Big Star with the trademark gothic undertones that are ever-present in all of his work. From Annabel Dream Reader to Backfire, Bell has proved himself as one of the most genuine and hard-working musicians in the industry, consistently putting out work that feels truly authentic. Backfire is an overall strong debut album from Kristian Bell, and more solo work is highly anticipated.

Listen to the album below!

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Honeyglaze – “Creative Jealousy” Single Review

Photo by Holly Whitaker

London three-piece Honeyglaze, who have recently signed to the legendary Speedy Wunderground, deliver an honest and incisive second single in the form of “Creative Jealousy“, following their stunning debut track “Burglar”.

The choppy rhythms that begin the piece welcome lead singer Anouska Sokolow’s sincere lyrical offerings of creative inadequacy and doubt. At such an early moment in the band’s career, this truthfulness suggests that they are determined to work with openness and honesty from the get-go, promising more insightful musical contributions to come. The song is decisively shorter than “Burglar”, only reaching two minutes and sixteen seconds, but no less impactful and successful in what it sets out to do.

Speaking about the track, Sokolow explains:

“Creative Jealousy” came from the feeling of frustration I had during a creative block. I found myself looking around and feeling unable to live up to the high artistic standard set by my peers, not to mention my own expectations. The only thing I could think to do was to make fun of myself.”


Despite Sokolow’s worries, the band, who have supported the likes of W.H Lung and labelmates The Lounge Society, prove that they are capable of big things in no time at all, with upcoming shows playing alongside Katy J. Pearson and Lime Garden to name a few. It’s only a matter of time before the band headline their own tour.

Listen to “Creative Jealousy” below!

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Jockstrap “50/50” single review

Experimental London duo Jockstrap have just announced their signing to Rough Trade, alongside a brand new track entitled “50/50”, which asserts that the pair will not be defined by any specific genre.

Their previous tracks have blended electronica with classical arrangements and rap, however “50/50” is their most dancey and infectious yet. The track begins with the echoes of vocalist Georgia Ellery reciting vowel sounds, but the song only progresses into weirder yet wonderful territory, becoming equally clubby and fragmentary. “50/50” weaves in and out of thumping beats backed by repetitive lyrics, alongside glitchy sounds that unsettle the listener. The angelic tones of Ellery’s voice that have always been present in Jockstrap’s work still stand out despite the intense soundscape that surrounds us.

The band have also released a music video alongside the track, filmed on a handheld camera in the depths of Hackney venue The Glove That Fits during an encore of one of their recent shows. The sweaty bodies that thrash around to the track demonstrates the contagious energy the track emits.

Jockstrap are set to release more music next year, until then, listen to “50/50” below!

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Black Country, New Road “Bread Song” Single Review

Photo by Rosie Foster

In anticipation for their second album, Ant’s From Up There, Black Country, New Road have dropped “Bread Song”, following previous single “Chaos Space Marine“.

“Bread Song” has cemented itself as a fan favourite through its debut back in February on a Bandcamp live session. The track is decisively more intimate and tender than “Chaos Space Marine”, focusing on delicate guitar lines that slowly build with lead singer Isaac Wood’s melancholic tone. Lyrically, Wood uses breadcrumbs in bed as a metaphor for rejected intimacy. By taking cues from the everyday, Wood makes the song all the more painfully relatable for listeners. The track is arguably one of the bands’ most emotive yet, as the pain and longing in Wood’s voice drives the rising violin and saxophone.


In reference to Bread Song, Wood states:


“We wanted to do the first chorus with no time signature. I went to see Steve Reich do Music for 18 Musicians and there’s a piece where a bar length is determined by the breadth of the clarinet player, they just play until they run out of breath. I wanted to try that with the whole band, where we don’t look at each other, we don’t make too many cues, we just try and play without time – but together.”

“Bread Song” emphasises the band’s talent for creating gorgeous, intricate textures in their instrumentation, as well as cementing Isaac Wood as one of the most interesting lyricists to have emerged over the past few years.

Listen to the track below!

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The Wytches – The Wardrobe, Leeds – 2/11/21 Live Review

Tuesday night saw grungy, surf-psych quartet The Wytches headline Leeds venue The Wardrobe. This had been a long time coming, since their newest album, Three Mile Ditch, is almost a year old and only now getting the chance to be properly toured. The excitement to see these not so new songs in action was palpable, as a crowd gathered ready to mosh for the entirety of the set. The band opened with “Who Rides?” which despite being a non-album track proved to be a live fan favourite. Bodies hurled around the front, twisting, and contorting in motion with the heavy, grungy guitars that reverberated from the stage. The Wytches leaned towards tracks from Three Mile Ditch, but also made sure to include fan favourites such as “Gravedweller” and “Digsaw” which were played with such intensity and heaviness that I haven’t been able to get these performances out of my head since. There was genuine excitement for the return to normality in live music evident in their playing, as if the uncertainty of the pandemic has propelled them to make every show just as intense and memorable as possible for the audience and themselves.


As I tried to squint and see the rest of the setlist taped by each member’s feet, I could vaguely work out that the set was coming to an end. A wave of panic flew over me; I wanted to watch the band thrash their instruments around for a lot longer. Nearing the end of their set, a few guitar chords began which I instantly recognised as “She’s So Far Out”, a track that is only available to listen to on The Wytches’ YouTube channel. This track is one of their heavier, darker moments, and the tiny venue, with a crowd bursting with enthusiasm packed tightly inside, was the perfect setting to hear such a song. The band ended the night with an encore, performing “Beehive Queen” from Annabel Dream Reader. I was incredibly happy to be hearing this track, as there was definitely a lack of songs played from their debut. Understandably, the band preferred to play their newer songs, but judging by their fans, who barely stopped to catch a breath, a longer set that mixed in more older tracks such as “Crying Clown”, “Robe for Juda”, and “Burn out the Bruise”, would not go amiss.

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Sinead O’Brien – Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds – 24/10/31 Live Review

Photo by Aimee Ferrier

Taking to the stage in Hyde Park Book Club’s grungy basement, Irish fashion designer turned performer Sinead O’Brien transformed a dull Sunday night into an incredible display of punk poetic excellence. It is clear O’Brien takes influence from punk icons such as Patti Smith and Mark E. Smith, so it was only apt for her to walk on stage to the driving guitar riffs of The Fall’s Blindness. Clad head to toe in leather, O’Brien looked every part the performer, owning the stage with a confident ease, effortlessly performing her poetry over the crashing of drums and heavy guitar. Despite the set being relatively short, each track was performed with enthusiasm and intensity from Sinead and her two band members –Julian Hansen on guitar and Oscar Robertson on drums. The tracks sound excellent on record, but their live versions were even more impactful, as Sinead delivered lengthy lines of poetry without a second thought, and her band thrashed their instruments, creating a totally immersive atmosphere.

Sinead and her band debuted a few new tracks, including the stand-out song of the whole performance, entitled Like Culture, which O’Brien told us often gets called Dance! by fans. This instructive line is sung before a heavy drum beat thumps seismically through the crowd with funky guitars to back. This track gave a very promising look into the sonic direction O’Brien’s music will take. The set ended with her Speedy Wunderground single Taking On Time, which was the perfect closer to a set that mixed popular singles with spellbinding new tracks.

After the performance, O’Brien moved straight to the merch stand to sell her own t-shirts, tote bags, and pins whilst chatting with excited crowd members. She had an incredibly warm and inviting energy, leading my friends and I to chat for her for a while, as she explained to us the importance of making her merch ethically. She stated that she loves performing in intimate venues where the audience can come very close to the stage and asked us what it’s like to watch someone in such a close proximity, (mid-way through the gig she had asked everyone to come closer). Of course, standing so close is intense and intimate, but also the best way to experience the poetic genius of Sinead O’Brien live.

Listen to “The Beat” by EERA

Photo by Tobias Humble

Norwegian musician, Anna Lena Bruland, also known as EERA, has just released her newest single “The Beat”, ahead of her second album Speak, due for release 3rd December. The track has a brooding sensuality to its instrumentation, as a high pitched whir plays over an opening bassline.

Describing the track, Bruland says:


“It’s about getting convinced by these voices and these people and thinking that they are right… It’s my way of removing myself from these critics and saying if you can accept me for me then you can join me on my path.”

The song takes a steady rhythm with driving guitars, before breaking down into a gravelly, reverberating explosion, which Bruland describes as “a way of getting all that anger and frustration out and therefore starting afresh.” The sonic switch from a chaotic outburst back into a rhythmic pace shows Bruland’s ability to bounce back from self-doubt. “The Beat” is reminiscent of artists such as Sky Ferreira and Sharon Van Etten in its mysterious, brooding tone and vocal performance. “The Beat” and previous single Ladder are indicative of a rich and interesting second album to come.

Listen to the new single below!

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Fontaines D.C. – O2 Academy Leeds – 23/10/21 Live Review

Photo by Aimee Ferrier

Tightly packed into Leeds’ O2 Academy was a sold out crowd excited to see the biggest Irish band to have emerged over recent years, Fontaines D.C. After releasing their second album A Hero’s Death last year, this tour has given them a chance to perform it with the normality of touring pre-pandemic.

Confidently striding on stage, the band tossed roses into the eager crowd, before energetic drumbeats sounded in, and the band performed their second album’s titular track. I had not seen the band since January 2020, before we had any idea that gigs would be off the cards for a long while. Straight away, I could sense that a maturity and confidence had grown in the band since then, with lead singer Grian Chatten interacting with the crowd by waving at audience members on the balcony, and even tossing a piece of his tambourine into the front of the crowd.

The five piece alternated between playing tracks from A Hero’s Death and debut album Dogrel, however they orientated the set towards the latter, playing all but two of its eleven tracks. This might be due to the mellow slant of their sophomore album, leaving many of the tracks unsuitable for a high octane gig when played alongside the energetic tracks of Dogrel.

My personal highlight was “Too Real”, the anticipatory build up exploding into whirring guitars and an enthusiastic crowd to match. This segued straight into “Big”, another fan favourite – short but incredibly sweet. The anthemic choruses of most of their tracks allowed the audience to fully involve themselves in the splendour that Fontaines D.C. created.

The band were perfectly able to blend the more brooding, dulcet tones of certain tracks with their raucous, more explosive songs. “The Lotts” bridged the gap between the darker sounding “I Don’t Belong” and the rowdier “Living In America”. They proved themselves masters of curating the perfect setlist – the time seemed to fly by as the band never provided a dull moment.

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Photo by Aimee Ferrier

As “Boys In The Better Land” played with intensity and excitement evident in the band and crowd alike, I knew the gig was drawing to a close -however the absence of some of their biggest singles indicated an encore was still to come. The boys walked off stage, only to come back a few moments later for “Roy’s Tune”, the perfect moment to catch a breath before jumping into “Liberty Belle”, which had every member of the crowd holding out their arms and chanting the words along with Chatten.

Fontaines D.C. were able to sell out a venue with a 2,300 capacity and showed no struggle in projecting their musicality to every member of the crowd. With the strength of their musical outputs and speed in which they are able to do so, in no time at all I suspect they’ll be headlining bigger venues very soon.

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Black Country, New Road – Chaos Space Marine Single Review

After their Mercury Prize nominated debut For the First Time, Black Country, New Road have announced their second album, Ants From Up There, set to release 4th February 2022. With this announcement the genre-blending seven-piece have released the album’s first single, entitled Chaos Space Marine.


Black Country, New Road offer up their shortest track to date, structurally reminiscent of a pop song yet laden with jolting violins and abrupt drum beats that are trademark to the band’s sound. This is the most anthemic track the band have released so far, something out of their usual musical realm. The verses are backed by peppy piano that segues into a chanted, sing-along chorus that is inescapably catchy. The track travels with an anticipatory rhythm that builds beautifully into a slowed down outro, showcasing the band’s ability to retain effortless harmony with each other’s instruments.

Lyrically, the song maps out a journey of uncertainty, with lead singer Isaac Wood often contradicting himself throughout the track. However, there is one thing for certain – Wood’s belief that this “is the best song the band have ever written“. Black Country, New Road prove on “Chaos Space Marine” that they can condense their sound without compromising it; there is no shortage of sonic experimentation and fervent lyrical performance, all squeezed into a digestible 3 minutes and 36 seconds.

Listen to the new single below!

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