ALBUM REVIEW: Black Country, New Road, Ants From Up Here
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
Writing reviews is an interesting job, and I’ll give you all a little behind-the-scenes preview of my exact process. There are essentially four specific types of albums that we cover, because mid is skipped over unless it’s in high demand to be reviewed. Number one is the much-hyped, “I already know this is getting a Standout by the singles album”, like Mitski’s Laurel Hell. Then, there’s something like black midi’s CAVALCADE that came out of left field, and we were compelled to review it. Then there are the complete garbage records, like Ed Sheeran’s =. Every once in a while, we get something like the new Black Country, New Road, an album that we have to stop ourselves from rolling our eyes at. Their record from last year did pretty much nothing for me, kind of blending into the pandemic malaise early on. They arrived in the middle of an already pretty over-saturated post-punk scene with bands like shame., Squid and black midi all dropping albums of the year. A year removed from that time, Ants From Up There arrived, preceded by singles that I never quite enjoyed. I hate the clunky drums on “Snow Globes”, the lyrics about Wi-Fi on “Bread Song” and this general mix of order and chaos coming through on all fronts.
It all changed with the context of lead singer and mastermind behind the project, Isaac Wood, departing the band just days before the album’s release. This came as a shock to the music community at large, with many fans saddened and speculated about what this meant for the band. Context context context, I love this album, I think it’s all seven members really pulled together in a way that really meets the lofty expectations they set for themselves. With all these conceptual lyrics, crescendos, 12-minute longer closers, and blatant Funeral-era Arcade Fire theatertics, I couldn’t help but prejudge this band as a group of music nerds who think they are the shit. But guess, what? I was right about everything but the last part, because on Ants From Up Here, BC, NR IS THE SHIT. It starts off pretty early in the track listing with “Chaos Space Marine”, a flurry of piano, sax and cymbal smashes sweeps me in effortlessly. What you’ll learn early on from the lyrics is that there are a lot of weirdo sci-fi, tabletop gaming and pop culture references that sometimes feel hokey. The great part about Wood is that he plays it all straight, committing fully to the bit, singing lyrics like “Take my metal hand” without a wink of sarcasm. He ends the song with a farewell, “so long chumps! Back in 2021, no one knew this would be the beginning of the end.
The album continues it’s hit streak with the lovely, mandolin-laden “Concorde”. Rather than lean fully into the black midi unsolvable puzzles or shame. speed, the group sounds more like Modest Mouse. It’s this kind of British countryside emo music that I’ve never quite heard done before, and when the sound hits it’s grand conclusion, it’s earned. With there only being 10 songs on this record, the group doesn’t have a lot of room for unengaging material. From what I can judge thus far, there are only two tracks that I don’t like. The first is “Bread Song”, the only single that hasn’t grown on me, in fact, it keeps things way too slow and light after the softness of “Concorde”. It’s always the one that falls into the background for me, with the following “Good Will Hunting” being so much more engaging. Those revved synths right in the beginning, that Swans-like repeated guitar patterns, and generally sunny tone keep me from moving forward. And for some reason, him saying “She had Billie Eilish style/Moving to Berlin for a little while” tells me everything I need to know. The only other song I really haven’t been able to fully enjoy is “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade”. My main gripe with this record lies within this one specifically. Over these very stoic and weepy guitar leads, Woods sings “Breathe in your chicken broccoli”. I can just imagine an average Fantano stan listening to this and crying, and that just makes me laugh. While the jokes, references and non-sequiturs work most of the time, they occasionally fall flat in the most headshaking way possible.
Other than that, I like or love every other track on the record. “Haldern” and “Mark’s Theme” owe a lot to the saxophone meditations of Pharaoh Sanders, they remind me of alternate versions of songs off that Floating Points and Sanders record from last year. There are a lot of comparisons to be made here, and in my opinion, the group transcends the influence. Whether it be the Deafheaven slow building behemoth tracks or Explosions In The Sky post-rock crescendos, BC,NR always finds a way to put their own unique spin on it. Take the end of “Snow Globes” as a prime example. As Woods is trying to be poetic and explain change to the audience, he gets overpowered in the mix by this insane percussion that doesn’t cease until the song does. It is something that I hated at first, but now it’s probably the highlight of the album for me. Sometimes, nerdy, time-signatured littered rock is the best music. Oftentimes it can get out of hand and bother me, but in this particular instance, maximalism really works for the group. It’s as if they are performing together for the last time, and want to wring every heavy idea out before the tape runs out. Finally, 12-minute “Basketball Shoes” closes the record off. It takes quite a while to build up, unnecessarily so in my opinion. However, at around the seven minute mark, the song begins what I consider to be a perfect section of music. It sounds like fireworks are going off in the studio, sparks are flying from the guitars, the piano keys are falling off. Complete chaotic catharsis to end an unexpectedly great final (?) record from this short-lived rock collective.