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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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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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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Black Country, New Road announce new album ‘Ants From Up There’, share new track

Photo by Rosie Foster

Black Country, New Road have detailed their new album Ants From Up There, set to be released on February 4th 2022 via Ninja Tune. This is the follow up to this years debut LP For The First Time which was nominated for the Mercury Prize.

The band have also shared new single “Chaos Space Marine”, which has been played on the bands recent UK tour. It’s “the best song we’ve ever written” says frontman Isaac Wood about the new single. We threw in every idea anyone had with that song. So the making of it was a really fast, whimsical approach – like throwing all the shit at the wall and just letting everything stick”.

Listen to the new single below!

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Ants From Up There will be available on Deluxe 4LP box set*, Collector’s edition bronze 2LP [d2c only], Limited edition blue 2LP, Standard black 2LP, Deluxe 2CD*, Standard CD, Cassette and Digital formats.

*Deluxe 4LP and 2CD versions feature ‘Live from the Queen Elizabeth Hall album. Read our review of the gig here.

Tracklisitng:

Intro
Chaos Space Marine
Concorde
Bread Song
Good Will Hunting
Haldern
Mark’s Theme
The Place Where He Inserted the Blade
Snow Globes
Basketball Shoes

The band have also announced a new run of UK/ IE tour dates which will also include their biggest headline show to date at The Roundhouse in London.

Fans who pre-order any format of “Ants From Up There” from the Black Country, New Road store, their Bandcamp page and the Ninja Tune shop, will be able to gain access to the pre-sale for the 2022 UK headline tour dates.

Tickets are available HERE

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Wide Awake Festival, Brockwell Park -3/9/21 -Live Review

Photo by Max Styles

I’ve been to a fair few open air festivals in London before, some great and others not so much. Brockwell Park is a gorgeous location for a comeback day gig, situated just outside of Brixton station and brimming with lush vegetation. The lineup for Wide Awake was announced pre COVID back in 2019 when all we had to worry about was the tories getting back into power. Despite the bill being fairly different to the one initially announced, having The Windmill represent the main stage was a welcomed addition as well as being fairly surreal given how tiny that venue is. At this point however, I think it’s hard to be fussy when we’ll take anything over spending another 18 months watching Netflix, wanking and drinking ourselves to oblivion in our rooms.

Arguably the biggest guitar band in the country as of 2021, IDLES opened the main stage to a hungry audience, as push pits and bodies galore bopped to the likes of “Heel/Heal”, “Never Fight A Man With A Perm” and “Model Village’. The latter of which vocalist Joe Talbot had to explain what the song was about as apparently certain nerds online couldn’t seem to understand. As a band who’ve faced backlash for not being working class enough or apparently ‘appropriate’ punk culture, none of those factors mattered here as a wholesome lunchtime mosh was had by all. The brief Oasis cover was a tad cringey but that’s just my bias for hating anything to do with that band. Thankfully they redeemed themselves by closing on “Rottweiler”.

The plan was to see Porridge Radio afterwards, but finding the stage proved to be too cumbersome, it was bloody boiling, and we’d already missed half their set wandering around, so we opted to stay where we were. 

As my editor (James) pointed out, having IDLES on early as they drove down the M4 to headline in their hometown meant that it allowed other adjacent bands in their scene to have a bigger audience than usual. That being said, Brighton’s Squid’s were polarising to say the least. I’m usually a big fan of bands that have their drummer be the foreperson of a band, with Ollie Judge’s cynical observations and shrieks filling out the field coupled by Squid’s craft of song build ups. However, with only “Peel Street” and “Narrator” showcased from their latest album, along with even more new material sandwiched in between their older hits, a fair few audience members walked away midway through their set, and those who stayed were not quite sure what to make of things. 

Heading over to the So Young tent, a sizeable audience clambers in for Preston via London’s White Flowers. A dreamy three piece with tunes reminiscent of early Beach House, with gorgeous textures and floaty vocals. A sea of dads and Goldsmiths University types reacted well to the hazy instrumentation, albeit with some odd headbanging. James said his ears hurt because the bass drum was inexplicably the loudest thing on stage during their set. In his defence, he was being very brave about it. 

Back over to the Windmill main stage again, PVA’s glistening electronic musings make a nice break from the death by post punk mission that seems to be on Wide Awake’s agenda for today. Exploding one moment into a cacophony of noise to a gentle lul in the next, the dance group’s use of layers create a vibe that brings out the natural hit serotonin in the middle of the day we’d all been craving. 

Photo by Max Styles

Given the Sonic Youth comparisons made about Dry Cleaning, I was stoked to finally check them out, however we opted to go see Goat Girl on the mainstage instead as meeting up later may have been a bit difficult. There’s only so many times you can say ‘I’m by this tent’ and lose your mates entirely so it wouldn’t have been worth it. The South London ensemble, along with an extra violinist were unexpectedly drowned out by the quiet mix on stage, and crowds of people talking loudly to their mates over some of the slower jams ruined the atmosphere for me. It goes to show that some artists aren’t as effective on outdoor stages as they are in packed tents, and unfortunately this was absolutely the case here.

A nice surprise came from art punk weirdos Snapped Ankles, strutting their stuff at the Moth Club tent and bringing the weird vibes to us in the afternoon. You can’t quite put your finger on why they’re so enjoyable to watch, but their woodland aesthetic, blistering keyboards and genre blending madness makes them hard to not absolutely lose your shit to. If those watching Goat Girl looked too cool to be there or give a shit about any of the bands, the audience for Snapped Ankles is the complete opposite of that, with fans shamelessly throwing their mates across the tent, dragging strangers into the fold too.

With the sun gradually going down, Black Country, New Road treat us once again with the crowd warming playfulness of “Instrumental”, as a sea of gun fingers and men in bucket hats on shoulders dance their backs off. For every delicate introspective moment from newer cuts like “Goodwill Hunting” and “The Place Where He Inserted The Knife”, a sea of bodies bounce in unison for “Opus.” It’s surreal to witness a band who once could barely fit on the same stage together have such a visceral reaction from the crowd. 

Earlier that week, Black Midi announced that a string of shows had to be cancelled due to frontman Geordie Greep’s doctor advising him not to play following a throat infection. It was a nice surprise to see that not only did BM commit to their Brockwell Park set, but Greep was still as unhinged and bombastic as ever. He even managed to fit in a play scuffle on stage whilst bassist Cameron Pitcon seduced us with “Still” a country flavoured ditty on banjo. With some assistance from BCNR, the post punk giants combined forces together to deliver a truly memorable performance, never being able to sit still for too long before overloading our senses. Artists that are this unconventional and eccentric never usually achieve this level of success past a niche audience, but with both groups being nominated for Mercury prizes and playing bigger venues with each year, it seems like nothing can stop these incredibly talented people with so much potential.

If anyone deserves the first prize medal for today however, it was always going to be Shame. Frontman Charlie Steen points out that all the members had been going to Brockwell Park since they were kids, I can only imagine how euphoric it must have felt for them to headline a festival in their childhood playing fields, 10 years later despite the world still undergoing a pandemic. Tracks like “6/1” and “Nigel Hitter” are played ever so slightly faster than their recorded counterparts, but that tempo change makes all the difference. Drummer Charlie Forbes channels Steven Morris with his extremely tight drum fills, never missing a beat and adding an extra layer of ferocity into the fold. Steen has the crowd at his mercy, as circle pits and crowd surfers galore amalgamate into a whirlwind of chaotic energy. Blending newer tracks from Drunk Tank Pink with older cuts from Songs Of Praise, the moodiness of their stage presence was balanced with pure aggression. Ending on the cinematic turned cacophonic “Station Wagon”, the existential nature of the final lyrics “Won’t someone please bring me that cloud, move that cloud, join us on planet Cluj” encapsulate a true sense of unity that Wide Awake managed to accomplish today. 

Photos by Tia Bryant / Max Styles / James Pearson

Black Country, New Road – Islington Assembly Hall 29/6/21 Live Review

Photo by Ashwin Bhandari

Since the world shutdown I always wondered what my first concert would be once they were safe enough to return. Well it’s been 18 months since the pandemic started and even with the vaccines rolling in, life has not gone back to normal by any means. I didn’t even attempt to purchase tickets for this ambitious tour back in February due to the likelihood of every show being cancelled or pushed back to 2022. 

Despite this, I had high hopes that this would be a night to remember. After stumbling from a friend’s house having just watched England beat Germany in the Euro Cup, I met my mate outside the venue. Aside from a few virtual concerts we also had not seen each other since the start of the pandemic, the oozing relief of familiarity felt alien to me at first but I quickly embraced it. 

We took our allocated seats on the bottom floor. Without a support act to sit down and settle into the venue with, after a while I went out to the smoking area. Having not interacted with strangers in so long and with my compulsive tendencies to attempt to strike up conversation, I asked if anyone was part of the ‘Sunglasses posting group.’ (A BCNR shitposting/fanpage). They stared at me with complete bewilderment. It had been a while since I had humiliated myself in public, so naturally I stubbed my cigarette out and went back inside after this conversation went nowhere.

As the lights gradually faded, we sat in silence as drummer Charlie Wayne emerged, thanking us for coming along tonight as well as explaining that all the new material being performed tonight were still ‘works in progress’ of sorts, encouraging us not to film or post them online. The sentiment is understandable, however with the majority of the set consisting of new songs, the temptation not to post at least a few snippets for an instagram story is hard to resist. Each date on this tour has had a different track blasting over the PA before the group’s formal arrival, and tonight we are treated to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”. Opening with “Instrumental”, the quirky track set the scene nicely, with Wayne leading the rhythm with his frantic drum patterns and May Kershaw on keyboard, leading the audience into an almost hypnotic trance before the rest of the seven piece outfit joined the huge stage.

Despite its aesthetically pleasing architecture, at this point it feels like the stage is almost too big for Black Country, New Road to handle all at once. With technical issues cropping up at the start as frontman Issac Wood attempting to find a working microphone and a few of the newer songs whilst grand in scale lacked the polish of older material. Whilst they might consider these tracks to be works in progress, the new material was still absolutely worth hearing, especially as each component of the band makes it feel like not a single moment is being wasted on stage. 

With cuts from For The First Time sprinkled in to bring us back to something more familiar, Issac feels far more enigmatic in his vocal performances live, enhancing the dramatic quips such as “The cursed vultures give me sour dough, my daily bread.” The lighting of the venue itself felt like it was almost melting into the background curtains, enhancing the chaotic nature of their music. Bassist Tyler Hide’s’ soothing vocals in the chorus of “Track X” and the sudden shifting to erratic, borderline discordant violin strokes from Georgia Ellery heighten the different ranges of emotion on display here, coupled by immaculate musicianship all round.

The set noticeably lacks “Sunglasses” or any ABBA covers played on previous dates of the tour, but mysterious new cuts like “Basketball Shoes” and “Snowglobes” give us a bright look into the band’s future. Whether Issac is almost slamming his guitar onto the stage floor or Georgia’s frantic headbanging in the more intense portions of new songs, you can’t deny how mesmerizing the whole show feels; unable to look away or think about the outside world for a glorious one hour and thirty minutes. There is no encore this evening but there doesn’t need to be. Black Country, New Road have gallantly hoisted their flag into the ground and it feels like nothing can stop them.

Squid – Bright Green Field Album Review

WARP Records – 2021

White boy summer is certainly looking exciting this year. Another of the Windmill Brixton generation have brought about a whole albums offering of material, following the likes of Black Country, New Road’s For The First Time, Shame’s Drunk Tank Pink, Goat Girl’s On All Fours and Black Midi’s upcoming Cavalcade. This sense of intertwined musicianship not only follows the band outside of their own collective but throughout this album. With features coming from the likes of BCNR’s Lewis Evans on saxophone as well as having Speedy Wunderground’s own mastermind of sound Dan Carey on production duties. This album is in every aspect a working of five brilliant minds coming together to create expansive, ever twisting and shifting and at times outright cathartic works of art.

For a few years now it’s felt as though these so called ‘guitar bands’ have had much more creative freedom when it comes to finding a sound that is truly theres. Gone are the days where everyone had to sound like the eternally reachable yet ultimately bland Franz Ferdinand or Arctic Monkeys to even consider breaking into the charts, let alone top them. But now the time of self-sound is here. And Squid are very much making the music they want to. Although “Boy Racer” may have all the quirky licks and upbeat drive of a mid-2000’s era Foals track to begin with, it soon descends into a synth-wave, ambient, noise rock outro that washes over like a lucid fever dream.

The band have said before that their approach to this album came by sending different aspects of songs back and forth to each other online, eventually to all be layered and structured together. And this sewing together of movements and sounds is what makes this album so enticing. On “G.S.K” the band piles together sleek bass lines, funky beats and sly saxophone hooks to create a piece that is ever twisting and turning; becoming more infatuating with each and every change. All tied together with drummer and lead vocalist Ollie Judge’s unhinged vocal cries. At first the vocal styles that Judge chooses can often seem too over the top or even obnoxious. But you soon begin to realise as this album progresses that Judge is displaying and incredible amount of control and natural charm in an almost brutalist fashion. This isn’t the most heavy sounding music to sing along to but Judge brings an assured helping of anxiety that just pumps raw nervous energy into every sound. I don’t think you’ll find a more distraught reading of the weather than on “Documentary Filmmaker”.

One of the greatest showcases of the band’s succinctness comes in the form of lead single “Narrator”. Over its 8 and a half minute course the band manages to capture a sound that can only be described as a tumultuous breakdown. Over sparkly guitar lines and tapered beats Judge sings of being in control of his life “Losing my flow and my memories are so unnatural, I am my own narrator” he declares with an unhinged discourse. Moving into slasher flick punctuated guitar strikes the band slowly builds up this sense of dread washing over the track, all whilst being perfectly smoothed over by Martha Sky Murphy’s spoken passages that are delivered as if these are your last rites. Eventually devolving into an all out nightmare. With Judge’s repeated delivery of “I play my!” you can’t help feel like you’re on the edge of sanity, eventually falling in as Murphy’s horrifying screams soundtrack your descent.

Lyrically the band like to leave a shroud of mystery over what stories are really being told, not ones to pull back the veil. The title itself comes from the ever looming gentrification and industrialisation of otherwise natural parts of the country. But it’s not only the ravaging of natural beauty that the band touch on, they also question the growing feeling of numbness to global events. “What’s your favourite war on TV? Just before you go to sleep, And then your favourite sitcom, Watch the tears roll down your cheek” asks Judge on “Global Groove”. And on closer “Pamphlets” the anxiety of social acceptance overwhelms Judge as he sings “I’ve got a brand new car right out my drive, But there’s pale bricks and white smiles, It’s why I don’t go outside”. You can’t compare so there’s no point trying to appease.

This album has everything you could want from a debut and more. It perfectly showcases every minute of detail the band meticulously places into their music, whilst leaving room for overly catchy and intoxicating choruses. They take influence from every genre under the sun and weld them all together into an automobile of sound that is ever chugging forward. They have made the perfect springboard for wherever and whatever they want to go and do next. It seems there’s no limits to what Squid can be and we hope there never will be.

Black Country, New Road – Live At Queen Elizabeth Hall 6/3/21 Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Photo by Mark Allen

For a band revered for their live prowess, gathering acclaim for their explosive and vibrant shows, it’s always a shame that they aren’t currently able to demonstrate this to an in house audience. One of their regular hold-stead’s is The Windmill in Brixton where the band have on many occasions crossed paths with fellow contemporary post-punk/experimental rock outfit Black Midi, forming the supergroup Black Midi, New Road. But on this occasion the band are at a venue as grand as the heights their music reaches.

The band opened with a new, as of so far, live track “Mark’s Theme”, a gentle croon in led by saxophonist Lewis Evans; settling everyone in before the explosion of the rest of the show. They took their time to fully prepare themselves and set into motion playing debut album For The First Time in full. From the moment that drummer Charlie Wayne bashed out the opening beats of “Opus” with even more intensity than the album, you knew this was going to be something special.

The energy that they brought to the stage was simultaneously chaotic and controlled. As lead singer Isaac Wood sought to reek as much havoc as he could with flailing guitar lines and on the opening part of “Science Fair” the rest of the band stayed comfortably in place, waiting for him to land back down. As the distorted guitars got louder and the saxophone lines from Evans got more frantic you could feel every ounce of the bands energy being put into these songs. On the album Wood’s erratic vocals are one of the major driving points of the turbulent nature of the stories that he tells, whether its the wave of empowerment that he gains from simply wearing sunglasses, or wishing he’d never written letters to a past lover, the ferocity is encapsulating. And here he somehow turns this up to 11. Perhaps helped by the fact you can see the despair on his face, but you can feel every woe-some musing cascade from him as if he were your inner psyche.

One thing that you realise when watching the band is how much these songs sound like the studio recordings. Of course that will have been backed up by the sound system going through the same speakers that people at home listen to the album on. But this only demonstrates how in sync and controlled the band really are when playing these songs. Many of which have been around for a few years now, but they still feel as fresh and alive as ever. For many people watching this might be the first performance of the band they’ve seen; it certainly won’t be the last.

An aspect of the band that has been alluring is the level of, or lack of, publicity they give to themselves as individuals, preferring to be recognised as a collective in its whole form rather than a group of individuals. And their stage set up matches that perfectly. Wood is tucked away in the left corner, seemingly to sing at the rest of the band as Evans takes centre stage with saxophone in hand. Each other member equally spaced to give them enough room to shine whilst locking into the bigger picture. Their stage design also kept in theme with this anonymity as well as the album design. A background slideshow of various stock images of people, landscapes and animals all drew the focus onto the music, rather than the imagery.

At one point the select few in the audience stood up, which could be assumed would be for applause. But the actual reason was something much great. The camera’s panned round and every member was holding a microphone, to which they all joined together and sang together as a huge chorus. Adding backing vocals on the tender “Track X”, the dooming cathartic climax of “Opus” and most impressively they gave live staple “Basketball Shoes” a new feeling of explosive grandeur. This joint band/ audience sound only makes you wish to see the band live even more, just to feel the intensity they can create by bringing people together.

This was an incredible showcase of the bands’ dexterity that allowed the concise nature of the their music to expand within the space. Black Country, New Road may be at the very inception of their career, but there’s already so much to be admired. We sure can’t wait to get to admire that spectacle in person.

Setlist:

Mark’s Theme

Instrumental

Athens, France

Science Fair

Sunglasses

Track X

Opus

Bread Song

Basketball Shoes

Black Country, New Road – For The First Time Album Review

Ninja Tune – 2021

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.

Black Country, New Road share new single “Track X”

Black Country, New Road return today with their new single “Track X”. The track is the latest to be taken from their much-anticipated debut album “For the first time”, which is out on February 5th 2021 via Ninja Tune.

Having never been played live before “Track X” is an entirely new offering from the band and is a distinct change of pace from their previous output. Following on from their minimalist and foreboding single, “Science Fair”, the pensive new track is​ built around gentle cyclical guitar, bass and sax motifs, the instrumentation is intermittently interposed by discordant staccato strings before morphing into softer more melodic lines alongside mellifluous synth and cooing backing vocals. Speaking about the new single, frontman Isaac Wood says: “Track X is a song we first worked on in 2018 but one that never made it out into our live performances. We decided to resurrect it during the recording of For the first time and assemble it in the studio. The story is old but a good one and worth telling. We believe that people will enjoy singing along.”

As with the previous single, “Track X” is paired to a video directed by Bart Price who said the following about its themes: “The music video for ‘Track X’ is about nostalgia for being a kid and happy times with family, stupid moments with friends like feeding Cheetos to a giant horde of birds in a Walmart parking lot, and for Tumblr and YouTube videos of cats. But at the same time balanced with this is a comment on the transience of the past, like with the shots of the abandoned houses, and a sense that maybe what we remember isn’t quite real, like the idealised stock footage. I wanted to combine all of those emotions and thoughts together and make a 2000s style American home video.”

Watch the new video below.