By Jasper Price, Third Year Theatre
‘Ants From Up There’ delivers a mighty wedge between orchestral grandeur and subtle indie songwriting, all the while blowing each out of the water with swift sophistication. While sometimes wallowing in its own avant-garde approach, this new record by Black Country, New Road is as fresh and vibrant as it is nostalgic.
Straight off the back of last year’s success with ‘For the first time’, Black Country, New road have once again pushed the boundaries of alternative rock, blending this with elements of big band jazz, classical and post-punk. However, where ‘For the first time’ hit big with massive rock grooves and pulsating chord progressions, this album feels more refined and grown-up.
In the run-up to this album’s release, I have found myself torn emotionally. Their last release was critically acclaimed; to provide a suitable follow-up was always going to be a challenge. The tracks that were released before this album didn’t delight me the way that the singles from ‘For the first time’ did, and word that the band are soon to lose frontman Isaac Woods didn’t quell my worries. But I needn’t have feared.
If their previous album inhabited the underground venues of student cities, this album shines pure jazz club circa 1975: smoky and golden. Some things never change of course; Woods’ wobbly signature vocal delivery, although now effecting a mid-Atlantic twang, cuts through the rich sound walls that the band create.
The record kicks off with the spotless ‘Chaos Space Machine’ - so tight that it’s suffocating. The band give us everything on this first track: big brass and drum lines are met with classical piano rolls and clean, sharp strings are set all around the beautifully syncopated main refrain. It’s easy to believe that this song started as an instrumental jam. The Bowie-esque chorus plunges us into a frantic dream world and readies us for what is to come.
From there the album takes it down a notch. Tracks ‘Concorde’ and ‘Bread Song’ are both beautifully layered, with Woods’ vocals being the focal point. ‘Bread song’ for me is a standout moment on the album, especially the way that the band work together dynamically, notes rising and falling dramatically as the song progresses. What at first feels untethered and unrestrained is quickly brought to a steady rhythm by Charlie Wayne’s rim hits, until at last the song crescendos before being brought back with the line 'this place is not for any man, nor any particle of bread'.
Throughout the album, the band clearly show their empathy for each other. On ‘Good Will Hunting’, the band find their groove and take us through various passages of drum and guitar, which sound more reminiscent of their previous work. The instrumental ‘Mark’s Theme' is hauntingly beautiful and nostalgic. The track features a slow dance between saxophone, piano and violin, which evokes images of rainy-day street corners as it sweeps and glides. There are big moments too of course. The end of ‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’ screams pure big band, complete with a choir echoing Woods’ vocals. For me this is the most pleasing instrumental of the album.
There is never an attempt to follow conventional song structuring. Take the final song ‘Basketball Shoes’ for example: through each movement of the twelve-minute track, the band coexist in sonic bliss, with each section being bigger and more elaborate than the one before it.
Overall, ‘Ants From Up There’ is undoubtedly an attack on the ears. Sometimes punching them with epic instrumental and grand crescendo, sometimes delicately caressing them with emotion and beauty. I am very excited to hear what the band come up with next, but with the news of Isaac Woods’ departure, I am also weary.
Featured image: Ninja Tune
What do you think of 'Ants From Up There'?