Album Of The Week: Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

London’s post-punk jazz pioneers cut through the buzz with an opus of an album that does everything differently

When For The First Time came out, it seemed like it had no choice. Sounding like it was made by a band keeping one eye on the studio door, the Mercury-nominated debut from Black Country, New Road was urgent and angry and frustrated – a wave of klezmer-punk experimentation crashing over a scene that didn’t see it coming. The buzz was overwhelming, and so were the reviews – each pegging BC,NR as the last word in modern guitar music. 

Sadly, days before the band’s hugely hyped follow-up finally landed, lead singer Isaac Wood quit the band – making all those Slint comparisons seem even more accurate. Were they over just as they were hitting their stride? If Ants From Up There proves anything, it’s that BC,NR are much more than the sum of their parts – returning here as a more mature post-punk jazz outfit who still pack a barrage of big ideas but who now have the space and confidence to land them with ease. If For The First Time got people talking, Ants From Up There will make them shut up and listen. 

Black Country, New Road - 'Chaos Space Marine' (Official Audio)

Listen to ‘Intro’ and it’s almost like nothing has changed. The klezmer brass and spartan drums are back, but elsewhere the room completely opens up. ‘Chaos Space Marine’ sounds like an angry Arcade Fire meeting an angrier Sparks (the shadow of both influences looming over the whole record), while Wood’s cracking-voice weaves poetry jams about Billie Eilish over crazy fiddles and multi-part choruses. 

‘Concorde’ is less bombastic, almost gentle, lending the band a folksy calm that sees them at their most romantic until the warm jazz of ‘Mark’s Theme’ paints everything with movie score quietude. ‘Good Will Hunting’ is more of what fans of the first album might be expecting – delivering a slow-built post-punk jam that rises to a screamy stomp – but even this spends longer in the ebb than it does in the flow. 

Blues storytelling finds a place on ‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’ (starting like Tom Waits, ending like a Broadway showstopper), but it’s ‘Bread Song’ that really makes the album unique. Inspired by avant-garde composer Steve Reich, it’s a track deliberately built without a time signature – each musician defining their own bar lengths by the amount of time they can hold a note. Literally breathing with the band, it’s the kind of beautifully wrought statement piece that echoes the best of Spiderland and the boldest of In Rainbows.

Black Country, New Road - 'Bread Song' (Official Audio)

And then there’s ‘Basketball Shoes’. Almost 13 minutes long, the closer is a single track that feels like a whole album – feeling, in fact, like the whole of this album – moving through moods and meters like a band with a lot to say and plenty of time to say it. 

The best jazz records feel like listening to a group of different musicians endlessly weaving in and out of the same band – sometimes together, sometimes apart. With Ants From Up There, Black Country, New Road find themselves perfectly aligned just as they face their first break-up. But on the strength of these 10-tracks alone, it’s pretty obvious that they’re all gonna be just fine. 

Track listing:

  1. Intro
  2. Chaos Space Marine
  3. Concorde
  4. Bread Song
  5. Good Will Hunting
  6. Haldern
  7. Mark’s Theme
  8. The Place Where He Inserted The Blade
  9. Snow Globes
  10. Basketball Shoes

Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There is available to buy here.