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Black Country, New Road Ants from Up There

Despite a reduction in the wild structural experimentation that characterised last year’s debut, there’s still a lot happening on this second album from UK art rock’s hottest property.

Released: 4 January 2022
Ants from Up There

Beginning with an intro like an overture, there’s a surprising musical theatre vibe to Black Country, New Road’s second album Ants from Up There. Early highlight ‘Chaos Space Marine’ is like a stage number crossed with the whimsical folk storytelling style of Richard Dawson, with some of the frantic energy of Cardiacs and a Bowie-esque chorus hook thrown in for good measure.

Stripping away most of the frayed edges of anxious, dissonant intensity that punctuated their previous work, BCNR also allow themselves more dalliances with straightforward post-rock emotion. The pensive guitar chords and gentle singing on ‘Concorde’ build slowly to a drawn-out eruption, with the band’s brass and wind instrumentation acting more as traditional counterpoints to the vocals than their usual frenetic interjections. The heartfelt ‘Bread Song’ is probably the album’s high point, going yet deeper into pure downbeat post-rock textures with a hopeful chorus perforating the surface.

Elsewhere, ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’s melodies will stick in your head immediately, which has plenty to do with Isaac Wood’s knack for penning idiosyncratic lyrics where pop culture references jump out from a complex tapestry of poetic eccentricities.

Ants from Up There flows as more of a cohesive album arc than For the First Time did, but it also takes a few more listens to get under your skin. Though more streamlined than its predecessor, this album is less likely to get your heart racing. Sticking with one motif for longer at a time, particularly in the guitars, does lend the album a maturity and allows things to sink in. But the tweeness of the theatrical indie pop-rock sound that pervades in between the contemplative elements starts to wear thin in the third quarter. By the time the epic journey of closer ‘Basketball Shoes’ comes to an end, however, you’re reminded of all the strengths of this young band and how much promise they still hold.

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