Album Review: Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
Online Music Editor George Ward reviews the new album from Black Country, New Road.
Ants From Up There is the second album from London band Black Country, New Road. They have been playing its songs for months at live shows and expectations were very high. Then, just four days before the album’s release, lead singer Isaac Wood sadly had to leave the band for mental health reasons.
This was devastating news to fans. His voice, somehow both shaky and powerful, is one of the most special parts of Black Country, New Road, his lyrics: heartbreaking, self-deprecating and funny.
So, while we wait to see what the next stage of the band will be, we have Ants From Up There: a beautifully crafted, romantic and incredibly sad album that has by no means been overshadowed by the sad departure of Isaac.
If you were to tell me that this is what Black Country, New Road would sound like after I heard their debut album, it would certainly be a surprise. For The First Time was filled with strange references, huge riffs and a seriously frantic energy.
Ants From Up There is somehow even better. The songs, while still long and winding, are much more accessible, heavily influenced by pop music while still maintaining the band’s unique character.
Instrumentally, this album is the perfect example of the seven members’ tightness as a group. They open with a beautiful and energetic intro before launching straight into ‘Chaos Space Marine’; an insane track that has every member getting a chance to show off (in a good way). It’s short, sweet and fun.
The band haven’t lost their ability to create a massively emotional drop. But where they used to make you feel dread and amusement at how dramatic their lyrics are, these ones on Ants make you relate to the terribly sad themes of distance and longing that are on every track. ‘Concorde’ is a great example of this. The climax of the song is more than worth the wait as the instrumental swells and blows up in one of the most satisfying moments on the album. The ending is absolutely huge, with the piano, saxophone and guitar joining in a noisy and cathartic finale.
cements Isaac Wood as one of the best lyricists and vocalists of the last few years.
‘Bread Song’ is a more subtle, yet equally beautiful track. It opens with a lovely section where the band plays with no drums, holding each note for as long as they feel is right. This is a great example of how connected they all are to each other- not an easy feat when you play with seven members. They know when to have huge climaxes and when to stay reserved instrumentally. Charlie’s drums tease us with quiet cymbal crashes and fills before they finally hit and carry you through to the end.
It is so entertaining to hear the band play together. On ‘Haldern’ the violins, sax and piano all intertwine in winding melodies, almost like a Steve Reich track, and it never becomes boring to listen to. While the album never feels inaccessible, some instrumental choices are more experimental, like the drums on ‘Snow Globes’ (as Aran Grover wrote a great review of).
For me, these work fantastically, and just as you are expecting the track to be a classic post-rock structure of a long build up to a dramatic finale, the band do something different, with Charlie giving an incredibly passionate drum performance that drowns out the other members, before the drums cut out again and leave just the guitar and Georgia Ellery’s gorgeous violin playing.
Lyrically, the album is beautiful. The subtle details of relationships, distance and loss that Isaac picks up on are very moving, while still staying playful and odd, like in ‘Bread Song’s lovely chorus:
“Don’t eat your toast in my bed.
Oh darling I
never felt the crumbs until you said
“This place is not for any man
Nor particles of bread.”
‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’ is a surprise favourite. It is one of the saddest songs on the album but never drags, with a beautiful instrumental intro, a catchy chorus that never takes away from the heartbreaking lyrics. It might look like just a breakup song, but it is these observational lyrics that make it stand out. His comments on relationships are seemingly insignificant but very moving and romantic. My favourite of these is:
“Every time I try to make lunch
For anyone else, in my head
I end up dreaming of you.”
It is these tiny details like making lunch or crumbs in your bed that hit the hardest and will stick with me for a long time.
The album finishes on a huge note with ‘Basketball Shoes’. At 14 minutes, the track winds through loudness and quietness, slowly building to a crescendo before dropping back and starting another section. The band are incredibly tight on this track and it is the best farewell that they could have written for Isaac, even if this wasn’t originally the intention. The group vocals on the final chorus are uplifting and brilliant.
Listen to Ants From Up There. It is a fantastic album and one that will be hard to beat this year. It takes influences from indie rock classics like Arcade Fire while still managing to absolutely be its own thing. The band have never sounded better and it cements Isaac Wood as one of the best lyricists and vocalists of the last few years. He will be greatly missed but it says a lot about the other six members that I am still extremely excited to see what they do next.