Release Date: Feb 5, 2021
Record label: Ninja Tune
Black Country, New Road's 2019 single 'Sunglasses' was a timely riposte to young middle class anxiety, but it also signalled a collective uneasiness - its unfettered chaos feeling like a slow-motion descent into insanity. Indeed, the song has become an unlikely anthem for a generation living in confusing, problematic times. Vocalist Isaac Wood's quivering rant about the hollowness of materialism, along with its overall wiry tension, sounds like 2020, in the same way This Heat's 'Deceit' sounded like a nightmarish Cold War cautionary tale without ever explicitly mentioning it.
Now comes the time for their debut album For The First Time (on which both aforementioned songs are present in a new form) where we continue to find the band's sharpness played out not only in Wood's lyrical prowess but in every instrumental twist. Every move somehow cutting to the heart of things. Even the 5:28 instrumental track that kicks off the album is simply called "Instrumental" - an overwhelming brew with horns that sound as if they've risen from the depths to swallow you whole.
Black Country, New Road's debut album is at last released into the world, so tell the band, especially permanently quivering lyricist Isaac Wood, that they can now unclench their jaws and chill out. The content appears to justify the considerable pre-release hype, for this collection of reworked post-rock singles and standout live tracks all sound fantastic, thanks be to Andy Savours the producer, mixer, engineer, recorder or whatever you wanna call him. He made albums with Blonde Redhead and Yeah Yeah Yeahs before this – also that My Bloody Valentine comeback album that Kevin Shields just won't upload to Spotify – so he was an inspired choice.
Black Country, New Road have been building their idiosyncratic brand for the past couple of years: legendary live performances at vaunted south London venue the Windmill, curious merch choices that included jigsaw puzzles and USB sticks, music videos built from surreal stock images, and Christmas covers of Wham! and Mariah Carey with Black Midi. The new band, who seem to have arrived fully formed, have already begun to see tantalizing results. With just two singles released, The Quietus dubbed them as "the best band in the entire world.
When Black Country, New Road perform live, any member of the septet can take the spotlight. No sooner than a bassline has rumbled in, an antic guitar riff grabs the mic, followed by another, each slipping into conversation before working up a temper. Keys tumble from swooshing violins into the abyss of a tooting saxophone. Off to one side, a figure recites chronicles of youthful arrogance and sexual dysfunction, like Nick Cave if he read Twitter instead of the Bible.
REFERENCES REFERENCES REFERENCES Black Country, New Road were victims of themselves. The hype for their first two singles, especially the fever-dream bloodletting "Sunglasses", was eclipsed only by the acclaim over their manic, highly regarded live shows. Gems seemed to pour from their fists at an alarming rate, provided you were up-to-date with the bootleg circuit; here a gnarly post-punk banger about Kendall Jenner or blowing things up at the Cambridge Science Fair, there a 15-minute behemoth about a Charli XCX dream which is as funny as it is oddly moving.
Black Country, New Road formed in 2018 and quickly earned a reputation as a ferocious live act due to their startlingly unique combination of post-punk, free jazz, klezmer, and math rock, with frontman Isaac Wood's volatile rants immediately grabbing the audience's attention. Following numerous sold-out concerts, including collaborations with close friends and kindred spirits black midi, as well as two heavily hyped 7" singles that sold out instantaneously, the London-based septet signed with Ninja Tune and released their debut full-length in early 2021. While documenting the energy of the group's performances during the earliest years of their existence, the album displays a marked evolution from their beginning.
‘For the first time’ is perhaps less an album to be enjoyed as a cerebral puzzle to be tackled. The record opens with the bewildering 'Instrumental' in European klezmer style (as all great albums do) bubbling to a sax-charged climax before crashing abruptly into 'Athen's, France'. Isaac Wood is a commanding narrator, and at times he's almost funny: "Dancing to Jerskin I got down on my knees / I told you I loved you in front of black midi", he rattles on the brazenly meta 'Track X'.