Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There Review

It was Lester Bangs that said the ultimate sin is for an artist to have contempt for the audience. But Black Country, News Road’s tracks and the meaning behind them, their image and style, are birthed through that wry and knowing scorn. It is not real. A smokescreen for an activity like no other. They have taken the word of Bangs and twisted it to their own satisfaction. For the First Time acknowledges that somewhat, as did their Never Again EP. This contentment with confusing or enticing an audience with new waves of music that were never explored because everyone else thought it was a dead end. Ants From Up There is that next dead end, with the band trying their best to detail new ideas and strange inventions, all with a fake status of belittling their audience.

Their system is a strange one. To be fed great music by one hand and smacked around with the other simultaneously. Tender baroque pop has the benefit of self-awareness from its singer and accompanying musicians. That shaky voice from Isaac Wood presents Chaos Space Marine with the baroque and chamber pop charms of Sufjan Stevens but the orchestral conception of something bigger. Something better. The ability to rise with the music is just as important as bringing it back down, for Chaos Space Marine has a charmingly frenetic midsection, its rise and fall feels complete. Like the last breath before crossing the finish line. Ants From Up There feels more and more like a marathon, with all the satisfaction and emotion of finishing one once Basketball Shoes rounds it all out.

Whether it is the saxophone that caps off Concorde or the resolute ambitions of the Nick Cave-inspired Good Will Hunting, Black Country, New Road has grand ambitions and the gift needed to actually achieve them. Wood has that stylish, warbling voice necessary to build up the crashing of thunder that inevitably meets the striking drum beats that linger throughout tracks like Haldern. It is a shame the high pitch and plucking of violin strings at the end of the track will set off the tinnitus of even the slightest sufferer. Worth it to listen to some fantastic lyrics, though. Wood has no shortage of those. The intricacies of the mind spilling out over nine tracks are almost too much to handle at times.

Fresh and exciting, the contempt is for those that are used to the two-minute pop tracks, the flatlining riffs and hooks deployed on every other number one hit. Ants From Up There avoids that with the smart and effective utilisation of instrumentals. Layering is a primitive concept used by many, to Black Country, New Road, it is a gift like no other. Something as basic as Intro understands that. Lyrical poetry far more often than it should be managed across lengthy tracks. Not good for those who aren’t fond of long songs with lots of words, but a real treat for those entering into The Place Where He Inserted the Blade for the first time. Truly beautiful stuff scattered across just shy of an hour’s worth of excellence.

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