Last year saw English experimental rock group Black Country, New Road release their debut record “For the First Time.” A favorite among critics and music nerds alike, it was included at the top of my own list of the best albums of 2021.
Following the release, the band quickly put out new material, including multiple singles that teased a new album in the following year.
And now, here we are, only a year later in 2022 and Black Country, New Road has released their sophomore effort “Ants From Up There”.
While the quick turnover was impressive, it brought with it some bitter news. A few days before the release of “Ants from Up There”, frontman Isaac Wood announced his departure from the band, citing personal issues.
With that news, one might fear that “Ants From Up There” might feel malformed or jumbled, a sorry follow up to a terrific first album.
Instead, “Ants from Up There” easily stands toe-to-toe with the band’s previous effort.
First thing to take note of would be Isaac Wood’s songwriting, which is better than it was on the band’s already spectacular debut. One of the album’s central themes is unrequited love, with a figure referred to as “Concorde” being the subject of much of the songs on the tracklist. In short, they are Isaac’s love interest.
In real life, the Concorde was a supersonic plane that operated as a type of commercial aircraft from 1976-2003. Initially seen as an innovation in air travel, it was discontinued due to high maintenance costs and low passenger numbers. Today, its legacy is almost mythical. Wood’s decision to represent a love interest using the plane represents the way one builds up their partners or love interests to be this perfect figure. It’s a representation of love’s blindness, and its significance to the record represents a major growth in ambition and skill when it comes to Wood’s poeticism and lyricism.
Such ambition is displayed on the final song of the album, “Basketball Shoes.” It begins with a dream sequence in which Isaac is living a perfect life with Concorde, having finally won her love. Later in the track, this fantasy is shattered, as Isaac awakes and cries out Concorde’s real name for the first time on the album: Charli.
The humanization of a previously god-like figure represents the devastation of rejection, and the hurt of realizing that the person one loves will never love them back. It is the sting of reality, the dread of coming down from your pink cloud only to realize your wildest hopes and dreams will never come to fruition. By assigning a human name to Concorde, their flawless image comes crashing down. There is no happy ending here. What we are given is an utterly decimating portrayal of human delusion and heartbreak.
But don’t think that this album’s concept is its only strength. The band surrounding Wood makes this record a truly incredible experience. The genre meshing that takes place throughout the entire album is especially exciting. “Chaos Space Marine” features touches of classical and baroque influences with a generous peppering of horns, all delivered with a dramatic, scurrying tempo that makes the piece feel like a full-blown theater number.
Softer songs such as “Concorde” feature some gorgeously delicate playing that is both heart-wrenching and entrancing. Its melody also stands as the most evocative on the record.
One of the most dramatic cuts on the album, “Snow Globes”, is a post-rock number whose wild and acutely threatening drumming in its latter half serves as one of the record’s most instrumentally devastating moments. The slow build up to said point is also beautifully done through simple, softly strummed guitar.
The genres and influences that the band sifts through on “Ants from Up There” make it a decidedly eclectic listen, and their ability to not only explore these different territories, but also execute them near-flawlessly, makes it an album that is as enjoyable as it is imaginative and expansive.
Truthfully, “Ants From Up There” is a record I don’t wish to stop talking about, and that’s the mark of a truly special album. Not just great, but special. One that, years down the line, people will still be pulling new details out of, and one that deserves at least an entire paragraph dedicated to each and every one of its minute features. As the years pass, I fully expect “Ants From Up There” to be seen as one of the finest records of the decade. For my money, it’s already a modern classic, and the band a modern legend.