Ants From Up There: a final step in the right direction
During ‘Science Fair’, a track taken from Black Country, New Road’s (BNCR) debut album For The First Time, singer Isaac Wood proclaims they are ‘the world’s second best Slint tribute act’. It is fitting, then, that Wood has prematurely left the band before the release of their second record, just as singer Brian McMahan of Slint did in 1991. Also fitting is the second record itself: Ants From Up There. As with Slint’s Spiderland, we will surely return to this release in a decade’s time as a cult classic, one which so effectively bridges the genres of indie rock and the more experimental post-punk.
Ants From Up There feels like a step forward from their first LP. As much as For The First Time was an exciting and slick project, their second release is more polished and comprehensive. As has been so effective in their previous work, BCNR continue to encourage warming melodies accompanied by the saxophone of Lewis Evans, only to be rejected by brave conclusion and stuttering tempos.
They have expanded upon their ability to develop songs from soothing introductions to atmospheric melodies, exploding in crescendo as the instruments of all seven members come together as one. Wood’s lyrics are as clever and direct as ever, and the band still refuse to conform to the concepts of chorus, which seem almost archaic in comparison.
The sensitivity of tracks ‘Haldern’ and ‘Mark’s Theme’ suggest a developing maturity in their song writing, whilst ‘Chaos Space Marine’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ remind us of the unique riffs and structures that attracted us to BCNR in the first place. Ants From Up Here is another triumph alongside their first record, which may end up being a list of two.
If we are to acknowledge the romantic similarities between Wood and MacMahan, then we must recognise the seriousness of their departures. Both left their respective roles citing mental health difficulties. Unlike Slint, BCNR have reached fame and critical recognition long before the release of their second LP. Since their days of touring with experimental rock outfit Black Midi they have been touted as rising stars and blew up in 2021 with the release of For The First Time. Such a sharp ascent into musical acclaim must not be easy for an artist of any age, especially those as young as the members of BCNR.
In response, the music and art community must offer Wood and his bandmates understanding, space, and thanks. Thanks for the brilliant music they have produced so far, and thanks for the honesty and humility they have shown in dealing with such sensitive and troubling issues. Where the band will progress from here is anyone’s guess, but for seven inexperienced musicians to have produced two superb albums in a single year is no mean feat, and for that, we should be grateful.