Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There soars above expectations

All seven (soon to be six) members of Black Country, New Road.

All seven (soon to be six) members of Black Country, New Road.

By Zach Smith, Reporter



Those worried about the quality of the new Black Country, New Road album, should fear no more: despite the shaky lead-up to Ants From Up There’s release, the band manages to fly like a Concorde jet above their debut album. 

Black Country, New Road is an English post-rock outfit formed in 2018, whose 7 members released their debut album For The First Time in 2021 to widespread acclaim. Although a little messy, the record set a promising start for one of the most creative acts of the new decade. Their sophomore effort, Ants From Up There, had a tumultuous period before release, to say the least. Band vocalist and lead guitarist Isaac Wood announced his departure from the band four days before the album was released, and the band canceled all dates for their planned tour of North America as a result. 

The cover of the album, featuring a die-cast plane in a plastic bag. (Photo courtesy of Discogs)

“I have tried to make this [news] not true but it is the kind of sad and afraid feeling that makes it hard to play guitar and sing at the same time,” said Wood regarding his departure. 

Although there were no hard feelings between the band’s members following the announcement, fans had every right to be worried about the quality of the record considering how important Wood’s unique vocal delivery was to the band’s identity. 

The fears were in vain though, because this new record absolutely blows their debut out of the water, and could be a serious contender for the best album of 2022. 

The variety on display here is astonishing considering the album was put together in just under a year. The album starts with the theatrical “Chaos Space Marine”, kicking the album off on a very playful note. The use of cheery brass is very refreshing after the consistently brooding atmosphere of Black Country, New Road’s last album, and goes to show that the band is far from a one-trick-pony. The track is wonderfully sweet, and an excellent opener for the album. “Concorde” follows suit, and features far more instrumental complexity. This song sets the foundation for most of the musical motifs across the album, but it feels like far more than just a second introduction. Wood’s vocals on the choruses are incredible and potent, with the slight cracking in his voice being endearing, rather than a sign of inexperience as a singer. The waltzy instrumental in the beginning is absolutely exquisite as well. 

The slow-burning “Bread Song” serves as a breather after the blazing outro of the preceding track, but almost to its detriment. While Wood’s vocals are sultry and wistful, the instrumental under it leaves a lot to be desired. The song drags on for over 6 minutes, and the only relief is the percussion and slight increase in tempo during the second half. The song is way too long to be a simple breather, but does not have enough meat on its bones to be an epic centerpiece, sadly. The next track, “Good Will Hunting” circles back to the start of the record as a poppy, uplifting ballad about a girl who “ha[s] Billie Eilish style”. Only the chorus and bridge have percussion, creatively representing the ups and downs of a relationship. It is a wonder this song was not one of several singles released for this album. “Haldern” would earn the same beating as “Bread Song”, but the instrumental is far more varied and interesting, and the song is barely over 5 minutes long. The song stems from an improvised piece that according to their label Ninja Tune, “capture[s] the magic of the moment, a one-off musical creation that can never be entirely replicated again.” 

The single cover for Concorde, featuring some plastic bugs in another bag. (Photo courtesy of Sound Cloud)

Mark’s Theme” is a short but delicious interlude dedicated to the late uncle of BN,CR’s saxophonist Lewis Evan. The sax in this song sounds incredibly crisp, and is accompanied by a sensual piano and light strings. The track is lovely, and does not waste a note. 

To describe “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” as the album’s best track would be a serious understatement. This 7-minute masterpiece is one of, if not the best song of the decade so far. Wood delivers his best vocal performance in the band’s discography to date, and the instrumental is incredibly complex, yet easy to follow. The choruses combine strings with a mournful sax and minor-key piano to set up Wood’s emotionally potent vocals. Every drop of potential is utilized on this genre-defining masterpiece and will leave the listener in awe.

Snow Globes” and “Basketball Shoes” serve as the falling action after the climax. “Snow Globes” was a strange choice for a single, considering it is a 9-minute downtempo orchestral piece. It is absolutely exquisite though, doubly so for the swell at the end of the track. “Basketball Shoes” was originally written as a tribute to cutting-edge pop artist Charli XCX, but the song doesn’t make that obvious in the slightest. The 12-minute closer makes use of Microphones-esque slacker-rock motifs, mixed with the pomp-and-circumstance of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s best work. Considering the themes of flying Concorde jets and fantasy soundscapes of the tracklist, this is a very fitting ending.

Overall, Ants From Up There absolutely soars above Black Country, New Road’s debut album, and sets a new standard for post-rock for this decade. The excellent songwriting, crisp production, and imaginative concept are unmatched in this genre, going toe-to-toe with the best albums in general experimental rock.