Black Country, New Road carve out their lane in the British rock scene with fiery debut ‘For the first time’

Black Country, New Road

For the first time

Ninja Tune · February 5, 2021


It should be well-known to fans of rock music that Great Britain has become a hotspot for boisterous, somewhat experimental post-punk bands in recent years, with groups like IDLES, black midi, shame, and Viagra Boys rising to prominence from various parts of the country. Little-known London-based Black Country, New Road made it clear throughout 2019 and 2020 that they were next in line, turning heads with the release of several well-received singles like “Sunglasses” and “Science Fair,” which are also featured on their debut project. They are a slightly larger band than their English counterparts, featuring seven members in total, including a keyboardist (May Kershaw) and a violinist (Georgia Ellery), and fronted by vocalist Isaac Wood. They use their expansive ensemble of members with clear intent, creating intense walls of sound and contrasting traditional punk instrumentals with hectic strings or subtle synthesizers. 

Wood is capable of droning softly in a way reminiscent of King Krule, while also delivering classic punk-rock shouting outbursts. He displays his full vocal range in the album’s lead single “Sunglasses,” a track which could easily be viewed as the centerpiece of the album and the group’s magnum opus thus far in their young career. The track is a winding nine-minute journey which displays the band’s most interesting musical qualities, such as the intense multi-instrumental soundscapes they create at the climax of the song, as well as lyrics by Wood which can be either meaningful or bordering on opaque. The first part of the song criticizes upper-class snobbery through the lens of a person dating a wealthy young woman, but eventually devolves into a manic instrumental, over which Wood shouts “I’m more than adequate / Leave Kanye out of this / Leave your Sertraline in the cabinet / And burn what’s left of all the cards you kept.” The meaning is not immediately clear, seemingly describing a mixture of deep insecurity and post-adolescent bitterness, but like most of BCNR’s songs, the palpable emotion of the music is perhaps its most attractive quality. 

The rest of the album’s tracklist is airtight, totaling only six songs and sitting around 41 minutes long. The opening track, “Instrumental,” is a tense blend of increasingly frantic jazz and punk which perfectly sets the tone for the remainder of the album. Another single, “Science Fair,” is similarly unnerving to “Sunglasses,” vaguely describing anxiety-inducing interactions with various women over a synth-heavy breakdown. Ellery’s subtle violin strings create an oppressive atmosphere which perfectly coincides with Wood’s desperate shouts of “I bolted through the gallery … oh, I was born to run / It’s black country out there!” The group also gives a humorous nod to a band whose influence is immediately noticeable in their music when Wood remarks “Just to think, I could have left the fair with my dignity intact / and fled the stage with the world’s second best Slint tribute act.”

If there’s one criticism to be made of Black Country, New Road’s debut album, it’s the self-imposed brevity which makes the songs feel inconsistent from one another. With only six songs, the band left themselves little room for error. They mostly followed through, although the songs “Athens, France” and “Track X” lack the energy of the rest of the album and instead rely on Wood’s poetic lyrics, which generally aren’t as captivating as the band’s musicality. The final track, “Opus,” does a satisfactory job of thematically tying the angst and dissatisfaction of the previous songs together, placing Wood’s somber verses about resenting the passage of time between sections of frenetic guitar and violin-shredding.

On their debut album, the London septet do leave room for themselves to grow into a more defining sound, but execute each song so well that fans of post-punk and experimental rock will undoubtedly be eagerly awaiting what the group has to offer in the future. 

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