June 3, 2023

Album review: Black Country, New Road delivers worthy follow-up with “Ants From Up There”

By Kaitlyn Seawood

Listen to Black Country, New Road’s second album, “Ants From Up There” on BandCamp: https://blackcountrynewroad.bandcamp.com/album/ants-from-up-there

Black Country, New Road’s extraordinary second album, “Ants From Up There,” is a steady build to a triumphant conclusion with an array of instrumentals and vast transitions.

Before the release of their second album, “Ants From Up There,” on Feb. 4 2022, lead singer and guitarist Isaac Wood announced his departure from the group.

In an Instagram post announcing his departure, Wood stated that he was leaving the band due to mental health reasons.

“I have bad news which is that I have been feeling sad and afraid too,” Wood wrote. “And I have tried to make this not true but it is the kind of sad and afraid feeling that makes it hard to play guitar and sing at the same time.”

The album’s “Intro” starts out with a frenzy of violin and saxophone but trades the intensity of former tracks for a delightful warmth before the guitars and percussion crash in.

It’s as if the group is breaking down the door and racing into a new epoch as it erupts into a purely joyful, booming chorus infused with the collective energy.

Other standouts include “Concorde,” which flows towards euphoric, cacophonous conclusions. As one of the softer songs on this album, “Concorde,” has the same chord sequence the entire time. Multi-instrumentalist Georgia Ellery contributes a mandolin part that refreshes the tune’s fundamental harmonic structure. Throughout the chorus, a passionate Wood likens his brief encounter with the supersonic aircraft to his pursuit of his love interest up a mountain.

The intriguing distinction that attracts people to this band is summarized perfectly in “Bread Song.” The song’s stakes are established in an unbound structured first half that plays fast and loose with the concept of time signature. A blend of comedy and intimate imagery makes the phrase “particles of bread” absurdly moving, and the second half is completely changed by a driving drumbeat that hits like a Sunday punch.

Meanwhile, “Mark’s Theme,” which was composed in memory of saxophonist Lewis Evans’ uncle, a steadfast early supporter of the band, who died of COVID in Feb. 2021, the day before the band released their debut, is a blissful interlude admirably led by Evans.

Black Country’s choice to release “Good Will Hunting” as their debut song was their only promotional error. It’s the finest pop song in their discography and serves as the ideal transition between “Ants From Up There’s” more fearful concerns and well-known motifs of the band’s previous album, “For the First Time,” notably a satirical portrayal of a failing romance and an unavoidable reference to a female pop artist.

All roads here lead to the titanic closing “Basketball Shoes,” which follows riveting tracks “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade” and “Snow Globe.” Over the course of 12 captivating minutes, “Basketball Shoes” flows magnificently through lyric after lyric, pausing for subtle instrumental interludes.

Appropriately, an outro that fits an album of this magnitude is delivered, including Wood’s voice rising like a cyclone alongside a plethora of instruments, with the lyrics: “We’re all working on ourselves. And we’re praying that the rest don’t mind how much we’ve changed.”

Given that Black Country has stated they would continue without Wood, “Ants From Up There” is undoubtedly far from the group’s semblance. Like many sequel albums, it performs as a clean page for unfinished concepts from the debut in addition to a hesitant next step in Black Country’s progression.

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