I have no prior experience listening to Black Country, New Road’s first handful or singles or their material from their previous formation Nervous Conditions. I always try to listen to records that receive overwhelmingly positive attention, so I cautiously came into “For the First Time” absolutely cold, hoping I’d at least enjoy myself. And goddamn, it’s fucking great.
For those unfamiliar with the band’s story, the band originally was called Nervous Conditions, and right when they really started developing a following their lead singer was hit with multiple sexual assault allegations. After something as traumatic as that, the band would be more than forgiven for not wanting to make music together anymore, but after kicking out said abuser and a minor lineup change, the group soldiered on now as Black Country, New Road.
At forty minutes long with six tracks all longer than four and a half minutes at length, two of them riding close to the ten minute mark, “For the First Time” is actually quite an easy listen that flows very well, and I’d have to say that’s due to the band not wasting a single note. For every second you’re hit with a fantastic build of tension, or a cathartic release of tension, or an abstract and poetic lyric, or a earwormy musical motif, or a moment of bliss - sometimes all at the same time. The experimental rock band has a great knack of going from a moment of beauty to absolute chaos in mere seconds, yet it never feels unearned or out of nowhere. The band uses their blend of post-punk, math rock, klezmer, and jazz rock to have these moments that build and build and build to the point of musical edging, and when the band finally lets you climax - blissful release, chef’s kiss.
Every member here also gets to shine, making no member of the seven piece feel unnecessary. The bass and drums hold the rhythm while stills being unique enough to stand out, the guitars are technical without needless wankery, the keys are layered beautifully and add texture, Isaac Wood’s vocals always sound like they’re on the verge of a panic attack, going from tensely quiet and breaking to straight up roaring, and the violin and saxophone is the absolute highlight of this record, playing beautiful passages in one moment and creating absolute hell in the other.
Besides a few nitpicks that I think some listeners could easily overlook, it’s safe to say that I love this record. There’s not much else I could ask from a debut record, except that I think we’ve only just begun to see where the band will go - as great as the album is, I still think their masterpiece is yet to come, and that’s what makes artists like Black Country, New Road so exciting. Until then, I will be happily replaying the fuck out of “For the First Time”.