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Ants From Up There

by Black Country, New Road

Released February 4, 2022 via Ninja Tune

Reviewed February 14, 2022

Top tracks (based on community voting)
Basketball Shoes (71%), The Place Where He Inserted the Blade (69%), Concorde (40%)

Just days before the release of Ants From Up There, Black Country, New Road’s frontman Isaac Wood announced his departure from the group, turning the seven-piece into six. This doesn’t seem to have been known at the time of recording, but it’s incredibly hard to ignore the context when coupled with the somber atmosphere of what could potentially be their last record to feature Wood. The group has always had a penchant for experimentation, and while their debut—as well as their storied live performances—certainly relies heavily on atmosphere, it almost always segued into cataclysmic bursts of energy. On their follow-up, Black Country, New Road sound exhausted, and you can’t blame them. Their meteoric rise came on the heels of a global pandemic that would put an indefinite hold on the live performances that were a driving force of their popularity. Coupled with the presumably arduous process and mounting pressure that comes alongside such ambitious creations they’ve become notorious for, this group of young adults has experienced so much in so little time.

Ants From Up There sees the young Brits largely eschewing the rabid unpredictability of their sound in favor of an emotional, tender, and slightly more conventional approach. Less dramatic tempo shifts, lighter and more digestible chord progressions, and a consistently soft-spoken delivery from Isaac Wood makes Ants From Up There feel much more vulnerable than For the first time—the latter of which, in comparison, now feels incredibly guarded with its unpredictable song structures and abstract songwriting. For lack of a better term, the songwriting is ‘direct’—there is a clear-cut theme that intertwines heartbreak, isolation, and depression. Despite the heavy subject matter, the album’s instrumentation offers solace amidst all that crashes around it. And similarly, we’re reminded that despite Black Country, New Road’s potentially uncertain future, no one can diminish the impeccable resume they put together in just a mere three years. – Dominick (9.5/10)

Black Country, New Road has released another one of the best rock records in recent memory. As opposed to the claustrophobic mix of styles on their debut, Ants From Up There has a huge focus on grandiose sounds with an infusion of chamber music. Incredibly composed strings, wind, and brass instruments alongside the standard rock fair create some of the most gorgeous yet intense music to come out in a while. Shimmering layers of piano and dazzling strings are scooped up by brooding guitar-work and sucked into a whirlwind, just for those sounds to mesh together and create a totally unique experience. While it has many notable influences—Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Arcade Fire come directly to mind—it’s a totally fresh experience from an amazingly talented cast. Their chemistry is palpable; they work off each other masterfully, with it all coagulating into an infectious mix. Isaac Wood’s vocals and songwriting feel more refined here, with a wider emotional array at center stage with his characteristically idiosyncratic edge. The quivering of his voice makes you feel everything he’s putting into the music, displaying a level of confidence far more advanced than many of his peers. Ants From Up There is another masterful record from these young geniuses. – Jared (9.5/10)

Only a year after their monumental debut, the Black Country, New Road gang return with a more tempered, streamlined sophomore, though that doesn’t prevent it from lacking depth or texture. In fact, they get to have their cake and eat it too. It features a cryptic narrative with a classic literature-esque employment of thematic motifs, drawing up interconnections between each track, as well as to moments from For the first time (2021). Elaborate slow burns are exchanged for relatively simple structures. ‘Good Will Hunting’ is only a couple verses and choruses, but their imagery, double-entendres & metaphors stand strong alongside the song’s indelible core melody. ‘Chaos Space Marine’ is similar, backed against jovial irreverence - piano chords race against tumbling toms, soaring alto sax and a quiet but crucial violin. It feels like the optimistic preparation montage-scene for the intergalactic odyssey Isaac pledges to do on ‘Good Will Hunting’, which is concretely foreshadowed at the end of our opener, among other recurring tidbits. Meanwhile, much of Ants’ back half share the long, stream of consciousness structures we’re used to, though ‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’ does have quite an iconic, upbeat chorus despite the difficult subject matter. It’s not about a stabbing, but codependency, analogised through the struggle of following a cooking tutorial. Closer ‘Basketball Shoes’ crescendos superbly, but I’d prefer to avoid describing so as not to spoil it for you - it’s the cacophonous climax Ants affords itself, as if it really were an epic text. – Cam (9/10)

Known for their precocious approach to writing material, Black Country, New Road build on their succinctly titled debut, For the first time, with a new set of meticulously performed, ever-evolving pieces—shaping within and through itself. If you have heard the debut, you will know what to expect from BC, NR; however, Ants From Up There can't really be summed up with words or prepared for. It is an experience of the highest order. Elements of post-rock, art rock, prog rock and chamber pop come and go as the tides change. This sophomore project could potentially be the final farewell of frontman Isaac Wood—rendering it something of a curtain closer for the initial period of the band—and it is hard to not hear the album through this melancholic context. With this in mind, Ants From Up There is a remarkable end to the band’s first chapter. – Peter (8.5/10)

Dominick: 9.5/10 | Jared: 9.5/10 | Peter: 9.5/10 | Hadley: 9/10

Cam: 8.8/10 | Pax: 8.6/10 | DeVán: 8.5/10


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