Black Country, New Road: Ants From Up There

The Concorde jet: aeronautical disgrace, financial boondoggle, multinational embarrassment. Hell of a metaphor, though. Isaac Wood returns to it repeatedly throughout Black Country, New Road’s second album, Ants From Up There, most pointedly on the thematic centerpiece that bears its name. “I was made to love you, can’t you tell?” Wood pleads as “Concorde” reaches a dizzying altitude, desperately embodying a romantic sunk cost fallacy, throwing good love after bad.

Until about a week ago, Ants From Up There could be heard as a classic breakup album. All seven members of the London band amplify the dynamics of Wood’s every convulsion, from giddy infatuation to paralyzing despair, as he desperately sacrifices his serenity for a tragic and heroic cause. But on January 31, the band announced, through Wood’s own emotional letter, that he “won’t be a member of the group anymore,” and that the remaining members will carry on without him. So now the question is, “Break up with whom?” “Isaac will suffer, Concorde will fly,” he sings a minute earlier on “Concorde.” Perhaps he’s talking to the band he’d leave four days before they shared a triumphant album with the rest of the world.

For all of the doubt the circumstances around Ants From Up There casts on the band’s immediate prospects, they’re right about where they left off nearly a year ago to the day. Both of Black Country, New Road’s studio albums are final destinations, bringing closure to a yearlong stage of roadtesting new material. Almost 75 percent of their 2021 debut, For the first time, had been available and loudly celebrated before its release, and when the album came out, the band began to distance themselves from their “phase one.” “There will be a clear delineation between these first 18 months…and what follows,” saxophonist Lewis Evans stated nearly four months before their debut LP. “We’ve gone in a new direction and are writing with a new ethos.” Ants From Up There’s very first moments re-introduces a band that could not be more excited about where things were headed. Whereas For the first time began with an audacious and alienating six-minute instrumental, this “Intro” lasts 54 seconds before barging right into what the band has called the “best song we’ve ever written.” They’re not wrong.

“And though England is mine, I must leave it all behind,” Wood announces as the album’s opening statement, a newly handsome lilt bearing a quintessential BC, NR lyric: brash enough to double as a pull quote for an NME cover and subject to granular pop culture forensics. It’s definitely a reference to the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000, maybe a tweak of the Smiths’ “Still Ill,” and, hopefully, a shot at the wave of talky UK post-rock bands that Black County, New Road were once part of and have now graduated from. “Chaos Space Marine” might be better described as pre-rock, touching on klezmer, chamber music, jazz, or any form of pop that used strings or horns as primary instruments.

Updated: February 8, 2022 — 12:00 pm