Black Country New Road: 'Ants From Up There' is a chaotic masterpiece
Stacked with poignancy, the Cambridgeshire band have delivered a beautifully messy album far more accessible than their debut.
It took me a while to get Black Country, New Road. I’m usually quite simple when it comes to my indie tastes. You know the sort. White guys with guitars wearing Adidas trainers. Preferably prefixed with the word ‘The’ in their title. Yeah, that’s me.
When the debut Black Country, New Road album, For the first time, came out last year I flew headlong into it in one of my ‘try something new’ phrases. And initially, I was impressed. They were passionate and chaotic and rough and threw everything but and in some cases the kitchen sink into the mix.
Then as quickly as I was impressed with them I went off them. Skipping their songs when they appeared on playlists. Talking myself out of seeing them live when I had the chance. I appreciated them more than I liked them.
For the releases of follow-up album Ants From Up There I decided to give them a second chance. Then right before it’s release came the bombshell news that lead singer Isaac Wood was leaving the band with what is thought to be related to mental health issues. It made the release of their follow up album more poignant. The last thing anyone wanted to be was witness to a breakdown.
The first thing that hit me was how Ants From Up There is more accessible than its predecessor. That doesn’t mean it’s a sell-out, it's still a mass of noise. But below it all lies a focus. Early track ‘Chaos Space Marine’ flies off in a million different directions at a thousand miles per hour and does so in a euphoric manner.
‘Good Will Hunting’ name drops Billie Eilish and Berlin with Wood sharing vocal duties. It puts you in mind of ‘The Bends’ era Radiohead, a band comfortable with their impending greatness. By the time you get to ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’ it’s like an Elvis in Vegas moment. Wood pouring his blessing heart and giving his all. “I know you’re scared,” he says in his a voice similar to that of Jarvis Cocker. “Well, I’m scared too.”
The stand out track is ‘Snow Globes.’ It lulls you into a false sense of security with a calming instrumental that reminds you of the type you get in the background of an easy watching American drama show.
Then it leads you on a journey lasting nine minutes with barely a moment wasted. It takes ages for any vocals to arrive but when they do they shake you to your core. “Snow globes don’t shake on their own,” Wood bellows. You don’t just hear him. You listen. It fades out like it started. Gentle and focused, holding your hand but not wanting to let go unless you’re ready.
The lazy comparisons were quick to put them on the pigeonhole marked for Arcade Fire and you could see what they were getting at. A multi-talented, mixed gender, multi-instrument collection. But done with a sense of eccentricity belonging to Britain.
Suddenly they make sense. I get them. I really get them. Beautifully messy. Exhilarating. Nothing wasted. The six remaining members have vowed to continue. Whatever happens with Black Country, New Road and Wood they’ve created not just a contender for the album of the year. They’ve created a masterpiece.