QUICKSPINS : Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

Ants from Up There is far from a sophomore slump

Black Country, New Road’s sophomore effort is one of the most visceral listening experiences I have ever had. Ants From Up There comes almost exactly one year after the bands debut For the first time. The band broke into the indie and alternative rock scene to massive critical acclaim. Despite the buzz that their first album generated, I wasn’t taken by it the way I was with Ants From Up There. 

The album is both triumphant and tragic, expertly harnessing all members of the band, which includes a dedicated violin and saxophone player in addition to the more typical bass, guitar, keyboards and drums. Some moments had me feeling like I was flying just like the Concorde jet that frontman Isaac Wood references several times throughout the album, and others made me feel like I needed to lay down on my floor, curl into a ball and hide from the world. 

The band clearly wears a lot of their influences on their sleeve, and fans of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor may find many of the guitar refrains and slow builds to be extremely familiar. But Isaac Wood’s intensely authentic, honest and vulnerable performance throughout the entire album is something wholly unique. The band’s instrumentals combine so many different sounds together in such a balanced way, mixing jazz, alternative rock and other genres into something unlike any other band working today (at least that I know of). 

After a short intro, BCNR launches into “Chaos Space Marine,” a song that could be described as an extremely energetic rock odyssey. This was one of the band’s more triumphant moments that had me jumping up and down in my room and sprinting off into some grand unknown future. Many of BCNR’s songs like this piece utilize less typical time signatures and build slowly into grand explosions of sound that feel exciting and unexpected. 

A slow build into an explosion of sounds could accurately describe many of the songs on AFUT as well as the feeling of the entire album. While songs like “Chaos Space Marine” and “Good Will Hunting” build to triumphant conclusions, tracks like “Bread Song” and “Snow Globes” feel much more tragic. As I listened to “Snow Globes” gradually crescendo to Wood shouting “Snow globes don’t shake on their own” over and over again over a symphony of guitars, saxophone and violin creates this sense of  falling into this sense of oblivion along with wood. 

Since I first heard it, I feel like I forgot other music existed. While it is a challenging listen, with long songs and instrumental and vocal performances that some might think are harsh and abrasive, it is also beautiful, honest and made me feel the most excited I’ve been hearing an album in a long time.

Tragically, Isaac Wood, whose lyricism and guitar performances are the core of the band, announced he would step away from the group just days before AFUT was released. The split seemed to be amicable, with Wood leaving to focus on his own mental health. The band has said they will continue to make music together after Wood’s departure. These real life circumstances make Ants From Up There feel like a tragic goodbye at what was only just the beginning. 


Score: 9.5/10

Trial track: “Chaos Space Marine” 


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