If you haven’t already heard, UK art rock band Black Country, New Road is probably the hottest thing out there since sliced bread. They’ve taken the underground rock industry, and more specifically this website, by storm over the last handful of years since their 2021 debut ‘For the first time’. Last year’s album ‘Ant’s From Up There’ is likely the most popular pick for AOTY and is currently rated as the 63rd best album of all time, a ranking I would expect to continue to creep up.
That’s obviously just a brief overview of BCNR, but basically it would be an understatement to say this band has been a revelation for internet music dorks like myself.
Despite obvious success, there has been a non-negligible amount of unease following last years record. Shortly before the release of ‘Ants From Up There’, it was announced that lead vocalist and guitarist Isaac Wood would be stepping away from the band, citing mental health reasons. While the band reaffirmed that they would be continuing under their name, there was still question about what it would sound like and how long it might take for us to hear from them again.
Well, let all your questions be answered. BCNR is back, and they’re back like they never left.
This new album is not a studio album, but rather a live album titled ‘Live at Bush Hall’. The album was recorded on December 15-16, 2022 in London at Bush Hall (obviously). The album consists of 9 songs which were written following the departure of Wood, and made specifically with the goal of having material to play on the road. As a result, there’s not a particular theme or structure that connects the music, and is rather a bit of an experiment with newer sounds and vocalists. A recording of the performance was debuted on the band’s YouTube page on February 20th, with the subsequent live album releasing on streaming platforms on March 24th.
As mentioned before, this album is an opportunity for BCNR to experiment with new vocalists, and the first on the mic is bassist Tyler Hyde. Up Song opens with a repetitious and syncopated saxophone that reminds me slightly of the Intro off of Ants From Up There. The track is a wonderful introduction that makes it clear early on that this band isn’t going anywhere in the near future, with the sticky hook “Look at what we did together, BCNR friends forever”. The group is proud of their accomplishments, the progress they’ve made, and reaffirming that there is no ill-will between the band and former member Isaac Wood. They’re all celebrating their friendship, and I think that’s cute <3
Next from there is a song headlined by pianist (and accordion) May Kershaw, who is probably my biggest standout on this record. The Boy is a beautiful story split into three chapters, and May’s vocals at points essentially sound like the Bjork-ification of BCNR. The story revolves around a robin (named Robin) with a broken wing, seeking out different woodland creatures like a mole and a deer to help fix him. One thing I’ve come to expect with many BCNR tracks is that the meaning is simply too complicated or too non-existent to decipher, and The Boy is one of those examples. There’s certainly a nice fantastical story being told here of some cutesy Winnie The Pooh-esque animals here, but I’m having a hard time understanding the role of the boy in the story, who seems to simply appear in verse two and then only be mentioned again in the refrains. There must be some story and metaphor behind the song, but perhaps it’s too personal to the band for us to be able to wrap our heads around it, and that’s fine. The Boy has a really compelling waltz feel and conjures sweet images of harmonious nature and animals, and Kershaw’s performance is incredible.
I Won’t Always Love You comes next and is a story that quite reminds me of myself post-breakup. The song is bookended by our singer saying they will, and then subsequently won’t always love their ex-partner. And in the middle is a grieving process, where the singer comes to terms with what has happened and moves on in a mostly healthy way. I think the phase change in this track is executed really well, and the second half does a really good job of displaying tension and anxiety, and Tyler sounds almost manic and paranoid by the end.
Moving forward, the next track is our first feature track for saxophone and flute player Lewis Evans titled Across The Pond Friend, who might I add, kills it on the wind instrumentals throughout this track list. Across The Pond Friend is likely about an American that Lewis became friends with and is dreaming about meeting and spending time with them. This, along with the next Lewis Evans headliner, are the weakest tracks on the album in almost all aspects. Lyrically and narratively, as well as performance wise, I think this is one of the weaker cuts I’ve heard from BCNR. Lewis simply sounds too bland for the typically emotionally draining band.
I think Tyler Hyde may have messed something up here, because Laughing Song is like, really not funny. It's actually quite sad. Should be Crying Song but whatever. Laughing Song is about a friend, or maybe a partner, that can no longer be in your life, and recognizing how difficult it will be to open up to someone new in the same way again. Tyler delivers such a slow and emotional performance with this one. The following The Wrong Trousers is somewhat similar in narrative, with Lewis looking back on a past broken relationship and seeing the bright side of things, choosing to recall the things they’re proud of. Like his previous feature, I’m not a super fan of his vocals, but I think the chorus and narrative are better on this. A lot of this music may or may not relate to ex-member Isaac Wood and his departure, though who’s really to say? I think it works better without needing to attach that story to it.
And then we get Turbines/Pigs with May Kershaw. God damn Turbines/Pigs. This song is the primary reason I called May Kershaw a standout earlier. Easily the best song on the album, and surely will be one of my favorite songs of the year. Though, I can’t say I have any idea what it’s about. I recognize the Bible reference to Matthew 7:6 - “don’t cast your pearls before swine” – though the overall meaning hear a bit fuzzy. All I know is that this is an epic tear jerker, and I wouldn’t have been able to hold it in hearing this live. Props to you, May.
Dancers and the final Up Song (Reprise) seamlessly transition between each other, and the album is finished of with the vocals of Tyler Hyde. Another track that I can’t quite wrap my head around concept-wise, Dancers does though have an amazing sticky chorus that could repeat infinitely and I wouldn’t turn it off. The Up Song (Reprise) returns back to the first track, though significantly slower and more sentimental, thus ending the album in a bit of a loop looking back of the journey of the band’s post-AFUT experience. This batch of songs feels something like a cathartic healing process for it’s members, and after getting over the first hurdle of continuing their work post-Isaac Wood, they’re prepared to take on a greater project now. I can’t say when I would expect a new studio album from this group, but knowing their work ethic and ability to churn out new music, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a new studio LP within the next year.
Thank you for the great times, BCNR friends forever <3
Favorite track: Turbines/Pigs
|1||Up Song / 100|
|2||The Boy / 100|
|3||I Won’t Always Love You / 90|
|4||Across The Pond Friend / 60|
|5||Laughing Song / 80|
|6||The Wrong Trousers / 80|
|7||Turbines/Pigs / 100|
|8||Dancers / 90|
|9||Up Song (Reprise) / 70|