Not only will For the First Time easily become a favorite for the 2021 rankings, but this treasure has the potential to become a benchmark for the future. In other words, this is not a day like any other. Black Country New Road is the symbol of these new groups of genius who point the finger at the misdeeds of today's society, while redrawing new musical contours, as if they were invested with a mission to care for the future.
It's fascinating how Black Country New Road brings out something out of the ordinary. For only a few months now, we've been hearing talk of the arrival of the Messiah or the Pope, of this "young" English band from London, yet they come out of nowhere, like a kind of snap of the fingers. Before the definitive adventure began with the single Athen's France in 2019, most of the members of the band had started with Nervous Conditions but the story didn't last very long because of the justice problems of leader Connor Browne. In the end, very little has been said about them yet, but I have this feeling that everything will really change once the For The First Time tsunami has overwhelmed all the listeners. First of all it's important to know that this is an Experimental Rock/Post Punk/Post Rock band with very large borders, comprising 7 members, whose main members are singer and guitarist Isaac Wood, saxophonist Lewis Ewans, violinist Georgia Ellery from the band Jockstrap. Black Country New Road has above all found a nice place on the English experimental rock and punk scene surrounded by future bands with impressive potential, such as Black Midi, Squid or Scottibrains. It is besides in a compilation edited by the label Manata which is called Speedy Wunderground Year 4 that we find the single Athen's France, as well as the other groups that I quoted you. Very probably delayed and discreet because of the pandemic, Black Country New Road took advantage of the stop of the concerts, to think and reflect fully on their first album.
It's interesting to study this modern and social phenomenon that we meet, reinforced by the pandemic, artists who are precisely approaching a kind of protest music, deeply conscious and very emotional, which has everything of the symbol of our social situation. It is not by chance that the year 2021, as in previous years, will offer numerous Post-Punk albums and an experimental and conceptual Rock that gets closer to the human, to materialism and its place in today's society. A reminder precisely, which makes the link with the 90s, the democratization of computer science, globalization and all the societal upheavals. That's why, of course, in Black Country New Road, we feel the musical influence of the 80/90s with Post-Rock bands like Talk Talk, Slint, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, the post-punk of Joy Division or the Jazz Rock of the 70s when Progressive Rock was at its peak. It's crazy to see how young artists barely 20 years old put aside the simple pleasures of life to open up to something more intellectual and philosophical, as if this generation was condemned to live to push back their demons, survive their anxiety and find a solution to make the future brighter. A constant stalemate that can be seen throughout Black Country New Road. Throughout their first album, we feel this resignation and melancholy, articulated around metaphor or satire, which we shouldn't naturally find in young artists. It is for this reason that the band tried to define on For The First Time a kind of new starting point, straddling between the malaise of youth and new landscapes/future, which here translates into the music and its experimentation. The music of Black Country New Road is not as crazy as Black Midi or as dark as Squid's, but it constantly lives around this invisible spectrum, trying to redraw the possible future.
The album is limited to 6 long songs like a 70's prog rock album in order to fully digest and enjoy its content. The interest of this kind of format only works if the artist/group manages both to reach a kind of perfection per song but also to bring enough richness so that it never ends up boring you. Especially if, as in this case, we know half of the album in advance. It is also easier to keep a concept and homogeneity with this format. This is concretely what the Londoners have managed to do. They reworked Athen's France and Sunglasses, and they opted to add only 2 more unreleased songs, which are important because it's the introduction and the outroduction. In my opinion, the fact that they had a rather late success of notoriety on the internet at only a few months of the album was not a real obstacle, even if the promotional singles were of top level, because we feel them as pushed and supported positively, we must have dared to rework songs that have already conquered almost all those who have listened to it. The work of For The First Time even goes beyond the framework of the album, because all the songs are made as a link of mutual correlation, but on top of that, they have this gift of being able to exist alone, as a whole entity. Each song always follows this progressive structure, in order to raise the intensity and define the setting, so that the final experience sounds like something supernatural. This ability to accompany us in moving from one higher dimension to another, always gives you this impression of reaching a kind of absolute apotheosis. And this phenomenon is accentuated with each new listening. At the beginning, you are full of it, you move forward timidly saying that you have found the Holy Grail, and when you understand that it is not just a simple cloud of smoke or a simple wet firecracker, you can only remain in admiration in the face of all this beauty and talent.
I appreciate the album's rather brutal introduction with this kind of instrumental chase at full speed on a Klezmer aesthetic. If the authors suggest that this is one of their first common realizations, several senses give recourse to the imagination in order to know its essence. One can imagine precisely this hypothesis, which ties in with the spiritual theme of the album's concept, that is to say, the escape from a collapsing world or, on the contrary, a way of drawing the new world. Perhaps it is simply a demonstration as a kind of presentation for a new listener. Whatever the reason, I think it was a good idea to start For The First Time this way, because it takes the listener straight to the heart of the matter. You can already notice some of the phrases, all the interaction between the band members, all the mystery that hovers around them and all the passion that splashes out. Athen's France, which, thanks to its poetry and its writing, already before the time, displays all the depth and conscious reflection that the group was going to transmit in their first album, had to occupy an important place here. And it's even better, when its reworked version is just as good, if not better. Finally, the more I advance from the album, the more I am surprised with each listening to see how much the songs that we knew beforehand, resonate more and gain in intensity in the album, without ever making the opposite effect of lassitude. It's almost if the road was already mapped out, the album follows with the 3rd single Science Fair before leaving on the album version of Sunglasses. It's fascinating to have the impression that you never get to the end of the listening of one of their songs, as if you had to start all over again from the beginning, looking for new discoveries. After having tasted the delicious Sunglasses and Track X, the album concludes with sumptuous ballads of more than 8 minutes which BCNR have the secret. Recorded the same day as the introduction, Opus is a mix between everything you will find on the album. Some rather rhythmic instrumental parts which take again the structures of the Klezmer music, alternating between suspended and tortured passages, all that decorate with a song and a divine poetry. This outroduction also reflects all the anxiety and depression that the band was going through, they just wanted to have fun on stage, forced to remain discreet. This concept thought in advance of the beginning and the end, also shows how BCNR had already thought about everything on their album, even before they knew the virality on the internet by the critics, towards the end of last year. To conclude, you understood it, I loved this album, I think the writing and the interaction between the performers are really fantastic, we really feel this unique alchemy of the band that we should not compare to others. On the contrary, it will bring them. It's a more than promising start.