Black Country, New Road - Ants From Up There
Feb 4, 2022 (updated Jun 3, 2022)
After listening to this album, I know 2 things for sure;

1. Isaac Wood will be sorely missed from the band, and I wish him all the support for the future.
2. ‘Basketball Shoes’ is preeetty much the song of the decade…

It’s fair to say BC;NR made something of a considerable impact on the AOTY community in 2021, kicking the year off with their massively hyped debut record, aptly titled ‘For the first time’. The album held my AOTY position for almost half the year, and the album ended up being one of the most memorable moments I’ve had with music in a long time. Never have I stumbled upon an artist I’ve never heard of and fell so head-over-heels for so quickly! Their blend of dense instrumentation (only a sextet could properly achieve) along with deeply personal and darkly humorous songwriting makes for a product that will latch itself to the listener and hold a tight emotional grip right up to its final moments. It just so happens those final moments were the unbelievable ‘Opus’ which boasts a monstrous climax of bellowing horns, heavy guitars and a show-stopping performance from post-rock’s latest messiah, Isaac Wood. So anticipation for LP2 was obvious and undeniable as of late 2021, only fuelled by the surprise release of ‘Chaos Space Marine’, a baroque and theatrical take on their established brand of post-rock, subsequently reinventing it to reach new heights. ‘Bread Song’, a decidedly more lowkey cut, and ‘Concorde’ with its quirky accompanying music video would arrive next to further breathe life into the upcoming AOTY blockbuster.

I’ll admit it was an increasingly difficult task to avoid leaked songs or live versions to spoil the record. However my curiosity lead me to their 2021 Elizabeth Hall livestream performance which featured old and new songs, including the eloquent ‘Mark’s Theme’ and the aforementioned ‘Bread Song’. But one song actually eclipsed the entire performance for me. Yep – it was the spectacular ‘Basketball Shoes’. It’s hard to believe something so cathartic and emotional even exists. Even as a live recording the song is a cataclysmic upheaval of emotion and anguish. And all about thirsting Charli XCX?? But indeed there is something so intensely vulnerable about lamenting over a wet dream – possibly the most awkward and embarrassing thing a person could talk let alone write about. Wood’s mind blowing vocal strain drives this song’s remarkable build to a height so euphoric yet crushing that I’m not afraid to claim it as one of the most beautiful musical moments I’ve ever experienced. I’ve shamelessly revisited this recording over and over again, praying the studio version would compare. And along with the rest of the album, wow did it just deliver...

The album opens with the shimmering guitar trade-offs of ‘Intro’, transitioning nicely into CSM, and the run of singles ahead. However after the hollowing bass feedback of Bread Song subsides to a holt, we are introduced to the newest gemstone of ‘Good Will Hunting’. The song has an unexpected subtle country twang whereby the slide guitars cascade over a gorgeously riffy yet ornate groove (plus the track shares the name of one of my all-time favourite movies, so yeahhh!). Next we are gifted another beautiful change of pace, with the gentle sway of ‘Haldern’. The song incorporates the use of stunningly soft pianos and ascending passages that are absolutely hypnotising. Like every BCNR, the song ends on an emotionally rife, poignant crescendo where the alto sax spirals around the visceral strings to accompany Woods’ cries of sorrow and hopeless devotion flung into the ether. Directly following this is the elegant Mark’s Theme, suspending the moment of pure contentment that follows Haldern, with a sweet little sax solo followed by an etude-like background to move into the album’s final third. Next up is ‘The Place Where He Inserted The Blade’ which is an anthemic ¾ stunner, with impassioned group vocals, coinciding in a triumphant end that brings a tear to my eye (not the first time on this album, nor will it be the last).

I’d like to take a quick moment now to speculate about the curious album title. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, but this is how my brain registered it: the title is a double entendre like ‘ants from up there’ as in how ants see the world compared to humans as much larger. But alternatively, ‘ants’ as in short for ‘answer’ from up there, like staring into the sky and hoping for an answer or reason for your struggles. This would make sense, as a central motif mentioned a number of times across the album is the Concorde Airliner from the 1970’s, which is a pretty remarkable thing to see in the sky, and could be a metaphor for something magnificent and hopeful we may never see again (if you have any more ideas, drop it down in the comments!).

Now it’s time for the spectacular final two tracks, and my concluding thoughts on this record. First is ‘Snow Globes’, which by the way has drumming that whole-heartedly rivals even the virtuosic drumming of contemporary Morgan Simpson of Black Midi! The song’s instantly iconic, poetic message (“Snow globes don’t shake on their own”) is backed up by a bustling onslaught of ferociously beautiful instrumentation, so overwhelming I was physical shaken after hearing this for the first time (no pun intended, just noticed lol). I also love how the vocals are almost drowning as the drums and guitar take the reins, as if his cries are muffled within bedroom walls or attempting to breach the surface whilst sinking into the ocean. As this powerful track subsides, only one phrase enters my mind; “WE’RE HERE”.

‘Basketball Shoes’ is in a word, spectacular. The impact of this song will likely go unrivalled in 2022, because like I said at the start, this might just be one of the best songs of the decade. Every tempo change, every vocal cadence, every crushing lyric and every voice in the choir. Perfection. This song made me cry, and as passionate as I am about music, I promise that does not happen often. I think when I really started to tear up was that part in the song where each note is played by a different instrument (timestamp - 7:59). It’s so simple but the type of decision only true brilliance in art would foresee. And when it erupts into the bellowing climax I was anticipating, I can’t stress enough how mind-blowing and heart-stopping it really was.

Pristine production, innovative structures and thought-provoking lyrics. Isaac Woods deserves six Grammys, Billie Eilish style!! But in all seriousness, I’m devastated he’s leaving the group, but at the same time bittersweetly praying he feels better soon and can hopefully continue to bless the world with his voice and penmanship.

Here's to the AOTY-moment extravaganza!! πŸ₯‚πŸŽ‰

~ ~ ~

---> Tysm if u made it this far!! My biggest review yet so all the support is greatly appreciated 😊

Fav Tracks: Concorde, Bread Song, Haldern, The Place He Inserted The Blade, Basketball Shoes
If-it-were-a-film Genre: Arthouse/Dark Comedy
Album Genre: Post-Rock

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