Album Review: Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road
Absolutly essential, Based on 6 Critics
Exclaim - 712340 Based on rating 71234/10
With last year's For the First Time, youthful and hypercharged UK septet Black Country, New Road rode a wave of accolades that swept them onto numerous year-end Best Of lists. They came on like a gang of high school band kids that chose smoking and red wine over virginity, watching Italian spy movies and trying to figure out how to play Slint covers with added horns and violins. The resulting rush of highly organized chaos earned them a spot of honour amid a rising tide of newly celebrated avant garde British rock bands like Black Midi, Squid and Dry Cleaning.
When the Concorde aircraft concept ended in flames, it expelled hopes, dreams and a future far too narrow-sighted to know when to say "enough." Why? Humans are experts at wishful thinking. It's our core, shared downfall and the greatest source of our suffering; yielding cyclical misery and pain upon others, a truth which Black Country, New Road 's now-former frontperson, was very much aware of. If the many pained words etched across the band's latest record are a harbinger, then Wood may have departed at the right time; to do right by himself.
Black Country, New Road's second album finds the seven-piece ensemble subtly evolving their experimental post-punk in a way that suggests they are starting to take themselves more seriously. It's no less sprawling or spiralling than their debut album, For The First Time, but it is less bombastic; it sounds as though Black Country, New Road are less concerned with making a statement, more willing to let their songs unravel slowly instead of uncoiling with jack-in-the-box furore. Isaac Wood's vocals are now largely sung, rather than being intoned querulously in the kind of sprechgesang that's become a modus operandi for what seems like every new band.
that's the drone; we sing the rest
The name Black Country, New Road rings out in all the right circles for an indie band trying to make their bones, though there's a slightly hollow after-echo tinged with the questions of 'was their debut really good enough?', 'why re-record the first single?' and a personal favourite 'post-punk should adhere strictly to my understanding of it at all times'. Ants From Up There is an ambitious, heartfelt move to correct this and cement the band's name in the permanent record. With the thematic coherence of a semi-conceptual art piece and the comfortable chemistry of a band finally growing into their sound, it's certainly the best album to come from this post-Brexit windmill-wave klezmer-core-whatever scene.
Anyone who's seen Black Country, New Road (BCNR) play live in the past six months knows that a change is underway with the London-based seven-piece. The once self-proclaimed "World's second-best Slint tribute act" no longer sound as angry and brash as when they first broke through in 2019. "Sunglasses," the grinding, sneering rallying cry of a single has all but disappeared from their setlists--and that after an already controversial album version, slower and less barking.
Where Black Country, New Road's debut album, 'For the first time', was heralded by a bullet train of hype far ahead of its release, the band's second - though still with a warranted level of momentum - feels like the pressure has tapered. Appropriately, for the brisk time between albums, the band's latest feels like a slightly refreshed iteration of the past. Rather than the breakneck pace on their debut record, this album mostly revels in a colossal slowness that extracts several tonnes more heaviness.