Black Country, New Road

Ants From Up There

by Michael Haddad

If you know Black Country, New Road (BC,NR) from their debut, for the first time you will know them as a band that loves dissonance, and spoken word delivery. This album departs from this formula as Isaac Wood (The Guest) sings on almost the entire album. Just the Monday before the release of this album Wood announced his departure from the band due to feeling, "the kind of sad and afraid that makes it hard to play guitar and sing at the same time." These mental struggles are apparent in this collection of songs that were recorded six months before his departure.

On Concorde Wood grapples with the namesake fallacy, more often known as the sunken cost, in the context of a romantic relationship. Bread Song, a song that builds upon itself over its runtime, sees Wood pleading for intimacy seemingly to soothe his fear of loneliness but feeling betrayed by his significant other. In Good Will Hunting he is grappling with the breakup. This track has the most pop-like structure, in that it has a chorus, though the idea of a chorus is inverted, as the most intense moments of this track happen during the verses. On Haldern, Wood sings of the pain of losing someone, a theme that is continued on Mark’s Theme, an instrumental track, which was written to honor saxophonist Lewis Evans’ uncle who died of COVID. Track The Place WhereeHe Inserted the Blade is possibly the greatest step away from the dissonance that filled much of BC,NR’s first outing. A rich instrumental contrasts the roughness of Wood’s voice, which I have seen compared to Conor Oberst and Will Toledo, as he sings of the fear he has of going into a new relationship. Snow Globes is the most “post-rock” track on the album, a long instrumental intro crescendos into a refrain that is repeated from an ever-distant perspective as drummer Charlie Wayne plays a cacophonous drum solo. Basketball Shoes, despite being the closer, was written firs. Its journey includes includes motifs that are heard on other songs on the album; this track almost feels like three songs as it progresses to an epic climax.

That is not to say that this album is all doom and gloom. The lyrics are full of pop culture references, including Billie Eilish, Kanye West, and Warhammer 40,000. These references cement the period in which this album was written, much like the lyrics interpolated from The Killers and Father John Misty. These references paint a picture of the band writing these songs - a bunch of kids in their early 20s. The instrumentals are extraordinarily playful as well, all the different parts weave in and out of one another playfully even as Wood sings of isolation and loneliness.

This record’s greatest strength is its atmosphere Recorded live and with minimal processing, this album seems to capture a moment in BC,NR’s development,and that is what makes this album so good. The instrumentals aren’t perfect, but it is these imperfections that make it feel human and powerful. In the past, the band has (perhaps humorously) referred to wanting to be the next Arcade Fire given their large cast of members and eclectic instrumentation. With this effort I believe they may have succeeded, advancing the sounds of their influences.