Black Country, New Road: For the first time (Ninja Tune) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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For the first time

Ninja Tune

Feb 12, 2021 Black Country, New Road Bookmark and Share

Just over three years from the demise of predecessor band, Nervous Conditions, the wryly titled and much anticipated debut album by Black Country, New Road has finally arrived. The Isaac Wood-fronted assemblage has been avidly followed via early recordings and heavily gleaned live performances. Early single, “Athens, France,” appears here re-recorded and re-worded (as is “Sunglasses”), but other live set staples, like the fan-titled “Kendall Jenner” are absent. With two other singles released over the past several months, For the first time brings only two new songs to the band’s oeuvre. But what the album lacks in new material, it makes up for in seamless intensity.

The opening track, “Instrumental,” cooks more like a Blue Note-era hard bop performance than anything mirroring post-rock, with drummer Charlie Wayne gamely leading the way. May Kershaw’s wiggy synth line brings the tune into the modern era, but repeated and shifting strafes by Lewis Evans’ sax keeps the affair squarely centered on the edge of some Silk Road caravansary. A whirling dervish of a start that revisits us in the closing “Opus.” If anything, the opener erases any doubt of whether Black Country, New Road have honed their chops over their brief existence. Clearly they have, and whether Wood was at the helm or not they make for a compelling force, that while plying tumultuous ground at times never totally lose their cool.

Wood, for his part, has stepped up as able frontman and, aside from some notable moments, maintains a sardonic detachment. Whether navigating the suburban horrors of a girlfriend’s parents on “Sunglasses” or mining the melodramatic on “Science Fair,” you get the sense that Wood may be sharing snippets of patchwork memories, but likely not the full story. That’s if the stories even occurred. Wisely they sidestep the too topical “Kendall Jenner” and the sexual frustrations of the original takes of “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses” are significantly toned down. But the unhinged ending of the latter is left intact and “Science Fair” follows the same path. “Science Fair” revels in Adrian Belew-inspired layers of distortion while “Sunglasses” shifts mid-way to the post-punk dryness of early Gang of Four. Whether shrieking asides to “leave Kanye out of this” age well remain to be seen, but the of the moment “I told you I loved you in front of black midi,” from “Track X” already feels endearingly nostalgic.

For the first time impresses most for maintaining an even keel through the roiling seas of Wood’s anxieties. The six-piece ensemble that surrounds him doesn’t so much provide support as lay the groundwork for what is to come. Whether the mood is desperate, aloof, or in a brief moment on “Track X,” shot through with sunshine, it is expertly established and conducted. For its dearth of new material, the refinements displayed only add to For the first time’s power. Leaving what comes in the next three years more the thing to ponder. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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February 13th 2021

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