Black Country, New Road (BC,NR) proved themselves to be a band to watch with 2021’s flawed but enjoyable ‘For the first time’ and they absolutely excel on their sophomore album ‘Ants From Up There’, creating one of the best albums of the decade, despite us only being two years in. Alex Tearle reviews.
Following the departure of Isaac Wood from the band just days before the release of the album, I think quite a few fans were very anxious as to whether the record would even be released, let alone if it would be any good. I’m very pleased to announce however that Black Country, New Road have delivered on every aspect in this album. The concepts, vocals, instrumentals and listening experience are as close to perfect as I’ve seen over the past few years – a true conglomeration of talent that should not be missed by old and new fans alike.
The album has clearly been influenced by so many genres and artists, combining horn sections, violins, guitars, drums, bass and keyboards to make something truly special. It’s not often an album can succeed in both melancholic and upbeat tracks over the course of a single record, but BC,NR are a shining example of how this should be done. The fast-paced Chaos Space Marine transitions beautifully into the melancholic and poignant Concorde, itself flowing perfectly into Bread Song, building upon the sweeping instrumentals of the previous tracks to make a real sense of melancholy and structure. The album drives forward though, never feeling overplayed despite its almost hour-long runtime. I think the highest praise I can offer this album is that its title is representative of the album. Listening to ‘Ants From Up There’ feels like standing on the edge of a cliff, gazing out at the beauty of the world in the early hours of the morning, which seems exactly like what the band were aiming for.
Black Country, New Road have often been praised for their lyricism, but ‘Ants From Up There’ is a true masterclass in song writing. I recognise BC,NR’s style of lyrics may not be for everyone, but the lyric choice feels (to me) like a well written poem in every track. It’s upsetting to see Wood leave, but he left us with something truly special here, delivering verse after verse of poignant and interesting lyrics. This is one of many areas in which BC,NR are truly innovative, with Concorde treating us to lines such as: “I can hardly afford a second summer of splinters / This staircase, it leads only to some old pictures of you”, feeling like something that could be analysed in an English Literature class in the future.
It’s moments like these that make ‘Ants From Up There’ one of the most satisfying and pioneering records I’ve ever heard
The imagery of the album is fantastic too, ranging from the Concorde to Warhammer’s Chaos Space Marines, a fantastically geeky variety of inspirations that most bands wouldn’t even look twice at, highlighting what makes BC,NR so special. The lyrical layering is also fantastic, especially on tracks like The Place Where He Inserted the Blade, which sounds almost choral. It can be described as a huge wave of sound that is truly impressive and will undoubtedly sound incredible live. Arcade Fire’s records draw the closest comparison to these songs, but BC,NR build upon the ideas Arcade Fire pioneered in the 2010’s, making something truly unique. It’s moments like these that make ‘Ants From Up There’ one of the most satisfying and pioneering records I’ve ever heard, and this album will undoubtedly be referenced for years to come.
Not every line is perfection, though. Lyrics like “She’s got Billie Eilish style” feel very strange and out of place when compared to the absolute poetry of other tracks, a slight disappointment but still an interesting use of imagery. This being said, BC,NR have written and performed some of the most fantastic and imaginative lyrics of the last few years, solidifying this album as one of the greats in terms of song writing.
This range is a particular strength of the album
This exceptional lyricism is backed by some of the most fantastic instrumentals seen in any genre over the last few years. In other reviews, I’ve referred to bands as having horn sections that could be from a BC,NR song, but this album shows the true talent of this band. Mark’s Theme has no vocals at all, with most of the track being a lone saxophonist, but still remains one of the highlights of the album. The song would be fit for a wedding dance, as part of a soundtrack, the background to a bildungsroman moment or even just as a track to relax to, highlighting its impressive range. This range is a particular strength of the album. Offbeat drums in Snow Globes build to a huge climax after six minutes, a monumental build up of raw emotion that forms the perfect backing to Wood’s anguished vocals. Fast paced violin work in Chaos Space Marine is backed with gorgeous piano segments, built upon with a driving guitar riff that makes for a quick and effective track, a highlight of the album. It’s this diversity that is truly inspiring, showcasing the band’s immense talent.
Not every track is fantastic, though. Haldern doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying as the other songs in the album, with a two-note horn backing that feels repetitive very quickly, undermining the track as a whole. This being said, all six musicians clearly know exactly what they’re doing, playing their hearts out on each track and showcasing their range with completely different skills being utilised effectively throughout.
This album is something really special, the likes of which won’t be seen for a good while after this. It’s rare to see a band introduce and master so many concepts over the space of a single album, but BC,NR prove they can, time and time again. Though not every lyric or track is perfection, the album on the whole shouldn’t be missed. I cannot recommend this enough.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. No changes made to this image. Permission to use granted to Impact.
In-article images courtesy of @blackcountrynewroad via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.
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