BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD : ANTS FROM UP THERE

LABEL : NINJA TUNE

ALBUM IN A SENTENCE : What an album! A once in a generation album. A bandstarter. A ‘will be talked about in the 2050s’ album. A thing of wildness and beauty. My brand new favourite and best.

In the almost year that Ants From Up There has woven its way into my consciousness since I watched Black Country, New Road play ‘Bread Song’ and ‘Basketball Shoes’ at their livestreamed Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, the candle held in my heart for this album has burnt bright. That concert, featured on the deluxe edition of the album, was a bravura moment for the young band. To watch them play their excellent For The First Time album back to back but then play two songs afterwards that belonged in a completely different league left me open mouthed on my sofa.

To have the album in my hand, pre-ordered as my family Christmas present with matching T Shirt, and to know Black Country, New Road have surpassed all expectations, I want to reach for the comparative big guns. Is ‘Chaos Space Marine’, ‘Concorde’ and ‘Bread Song’ as knockout a 1,2,3 punch combination as ‘Debaser’, ‘Tame’ and ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ from Pixies’ Doolittle? Why not? It’s different, but as powerful. Has Ants got as many endings as Lord of the Rings? Definitely, everyone better than the last.

The comparison that stands out for me is this. Ants From Up There is to For The First Time what Crooked Rain was to Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement. Firstly, Ants is of comparable beauty to *the greatest indie album of the 1990s*. For ‘jasper’s skinny arms’, there’s ‘Billie Eilish style’. But more importantly, nearly thirty years later, to watch another successful bunch of post-punks explode their playbook out in a riot of melodic invention so compellingly is spellbindingly splendid. Ants From Up There is like a perfect crocus after a long winter, like a sunset over your hometown at the end of a long journey home.

The triumph of Ants is in both the concentrated, distilled vision of the songwriting that encompasses a variety of moods and influences. There are Beach Boys pocket symphonies like ‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’. The exceptional team effort from violinist Georgia Ellery and saxophonist Lewis Evans introduce the minimalism of Reich and Glass into the equation on ‘Haldern’. It’s an album at home with firework jazz moments, goofy Divine Comedy-esque Britpop, post rock grandiosity and a first class deployment of the Great Grunge Chord.

The playing is tight and generous. Each member of the band have given all and grasped their opportunity to shine. However, even before the announcement of his departure from the band, Ants From Up There’s heart belongs to lyric writer, vocalist and guitarist, Isaac Wood. Going back to Crooked Rain, in and amongst all the irony and games and references, when Stephen Malkmus let his guard down with a simple ‘I need to sleep’, it mattered deeply. Woods does the same, but more often. Anyone capable of the line ‘slip into something beside / the holes you tried to hide’ is both a poet and someone who knows about people.

I’ve kind of said it before on this blog, but it bears clarifying, the current generation of music artists are superior in solidarity and empathy to my generation, with an understanding of mental health that just did not exist when I was young. Too many 90s artists kept going, or were pushed, past the breaking point. It is sign of maturity to know when to step away. Like all of their fans, I wish Isaac Wood and every member of Black Country, New Road, future health and success. Meanwhile, what an album! A once in a generation album. A bandstarter. A ‘will be talked about in the 2050s’ album. A thing of wildness and beauty. My brand new favourite and best.

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