Black Country, New Road: Ants From Up There (Ninja Tune) - review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 28th, 2022  

Black Country, New Road

Ants From Up There

Ninja Tune

Feb 03, 2022 Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue Bookmark and Share


Anyone who’s seen Black Country, New Road (BCNR) play live in the past six months knows that a change is underway with the London-based seven-piece. The once self-proclaimed “World’s second-best Slint tribute act” no longer sound as angry and brash as when they first broke through in 2019. “Sunglasses,” the grinding, sneering rallying cry of a single has all but disappeared from their setlists—and that after an already controversial album version, slower and less barking. On their second record, Ants From Up There, the band take another step forward down that new road.

If BCNR are paying tribute to anyone here, it’s not Slint: it’s Arcade Fire. Ants From Up There takes the strands of sincerity that recontextualized the snark on their debut, For the First Time, and shines a stronger spotlight on them, softening the edges and bolstering their greater emphasis on matters of the heart with suitably grandiose instrumentation. Think chamber pop, think David Bowie, think…the modern Scott Walker. It’s almost like they had this planned all along.

For those not knee deep in BCNR lore—essentially anyone who hasn’t been sharing grainy bootlegs or feverishly comparing hypothetical tracklists online—the first single “Chaos Space Marine” was blindsiding. Gone were the post-rock overtures, replaced with a lighthearted whimsy; brightly ascending saxophones, playfully lilting violins, and a tendency for switching out instruments rather than slaloming them in between one another. Singer Isaac Wood’s most notable trait was once his caustic half-sung half-growled ranting, but here he’s practically crooning, warbling about the love lives of celestial warmongers. When the song hits its momentously melodramatic hook, he sounds positively earnest. (Alas, Wood announced on Monday that he’s leaving the band. Black Country, New Road have vowed to soldier on without him.)

That overblown hearts-on-its-sleeve chorus mainly serves to demonstrate how close to the surface the emotions are for the rest of the album, a far lower slung, melancholy affair than the twee kitsch of its opener proper. Black Country, New Road have always been romantics—proclaiming love in front of fellow scene-mates black midi, and fucking like they mean it—but there’s less youth-in-revolt contempt clouding those proclamations now. Instead, Wood applies his askance observations to quiet heartaches; the conflicts arising from crumbs left on a partner’s bed-sheets in “Bread Song,” or the imagined intergalactic anxieties that arise from a whirlwind, one-sided romance in “Good Will Hunting.”

What Ants From Up There gains in emotional maturity, it does lose somewhat in immediacy. Expecting a band to make the same record ad nauseam reeks of entitlement, but the slower pacing and frequently pensive atmosphere will likely turn off fans who fell in love with the eruptions of mangled brass and guitars that defined their early work. Everything here builds slowly, whether on the steadily ascending strings of “Haldern,” or the rising caterwauls of folksy blues number “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade.” Even when things do break down, as they do at the halfway mark of 12-minute closer, “Basketball Shoes,” it’s far more controlled, guitars tipping into overdrive in a tight procession.

What’s not been lost is the richness and intricacy of the band’s arrangements, an organic interlacing of quasi-improvised melodies and noodling diversions. There may be order when compared to the less mannered cacophony of their debut, but the band are never far from an atypical time signature, or one of their number freewheeling into the fold from an unexpected angle. Taken with some perspective, it’s gratifying to see a band like Black Country, New Road already making such a hard left turn only a year out from their first LP. Taken from an aerial view, it’s hard to be anything but impressed with what a cohesive, intentioned work they’ve created as a result. Taken on their terms, this is easily one of the most richly rewarding projects of 2022 so far. Just don’t ask them to play “Sunglasses.” (www.blackcountrynewroad.bandcamp.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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