[normally I never put more than 89 for a new release, because I have to test the album against time, but I had to make an exception for this one]
First of all I would like to give my support to BCNR and to the former leader Isaac Wood who has just left the band recently, I hope that everything will go well for him and that the band will manage to overcome this. Anyway it's a sad news for all the music lovers because BCNR has everything now of this kind of great band that can mark forever the history. Thanks already for all the happiness you brought us, love. There is no need today to introduce Black Country New Road, one of the fantastic and acclaimed bands of last year with "For The First Time", a delightful debut album that has everything to become an undeniable classic within a few years. Formed only in 2018, BCNR is part of this new Post-Punk / Experimental Rock scene, but I am sure that in the future, the singularity and innovations of this scene will be a new genre that is not yet defined. Let's say that it's too reductive to put them in the Post-Punk/Post-Rock/Art Rock box because they have so many differences with the real artists of this category. In the meantime, that's how we'll describe them, with nuances of course.
Almost 2 years separate the recording of the previous album "For The First Time" and the second album "Ants From Up There", BCNR was expected to turn and I am not disappointed, on the contrary, it is simply incredible. First of all, we can say that "Ants From Up There" does not only confirm the potential of the first album, it is a real consecration. Let's say it, it's better and the task seemed already surreal. "Ants From Up There" is opposed to "For The First Time" as much in its atmosphere as in its essence. While "For The First Time" exuded a sense of urgency and high anxiety through often dynamic musical patterns, this new album is a much more comforting, suspended experience. It's as if BCNR has been put on morphine, while keeping just one foot on the ground to deliver poetry that is as poignant as it is awake. For this, the London band has turned to a more intimate, contemplative, and quiet process, a "Chamber" setting that allows for the full range of thoughts and complexities to be masterfully expressed. Open the floodgates of emotion, it'll overflow. BCNR likes to keep a consistent direction despite their versatility throughout the album, which "Ants From Up There" achieves perfectly, where you can quickly discern the foundations. However, "Ants From Up There" is much more adventurous than the previous one, probably because it is longer and has more songs compared to "For The First Time". In a way, the format of "Ants From Up There" avoids most of the flaws that I found in "For The First Time", that is to say that I was left hungry (although it was great) because finally there were only 2 unreleased songs out of 6. Here, knowing 4 singles previously released on "Ants From Up There" doesn't change anything, because there are still many other things to discover and especially things as good as what we already know. This was missing on "For The First Time" despite all the good things I could say about this fantastic record.
"Ants From Up There" immediately shows that "For The First Time" belongs to the past. The musical direc-tions are not really the same anymore, the band has gained in maturity as if all the members were 50 years old, 30 of them already. BCNR thinks about music like very few do today, I already start to miss the poetry and the tortured vocals of the brilliant Isaak Wood, so much so that it is breathtaking. No member is afraid to step out of their comfort zone, afraid to take risks. It is through the union of all that the chemistry takes shape as if nothing existed before. One must understand that BCNR seemed so imprisoned in the turmoil of "For The First Time" that "Ants From Up There" sounds like a liberation, a whole new world, the glory after the war, the beauty after the atrocity. You only have to listen to the triumphant "Chaos Space Marine" to understand the extent of this evolution. Based on 3 minutes, it is first of all an exception in the career of BCNR which shows the band is capable of doing an accomplished job on a short format. It is noticeable that this is not the only short song here. The atmosphere is joyful, the poetry and the narration are uncomplicated managing to get the best out of the surrealist theme. We find brass instruments as a refrain that resume the principles of Prog, accompanied by a rock piano as rhythmic. Finally the warm choirs come to conclude this fantastic song, everything is perfectly executed from A to Z.
"Concord" is a real treasure among the multiple treasures that "Ants From Up There" composes, but this one has a particular flavor. In fact, this marvel manages to push to its paroxysm multiple qualifying adjectives: beauty, romanticism, melancholy, nostalgia, happiness, sadness, contemplation, clairvoyance, life quite simply. In 6 minutes, everything becomes so extraordinary, because the complexity of the details, the melodies and the poetry of BCNR remain truly breathtaking. The change of pace that this crescendo offers is an unbelievable demonstration. It's the perfect plane crash, the perfect parachute jump, the perfect end credits. Following "Concorde", "Bread Song" sounds like a return to reality, embodied by the symbol of the house, the roof of the conflicts of a flailing relationship. This song is so moving that you'll need a pack of tissues, or a second one just in case. It's a terrible sadness. Thousands of feelings come to life around a fire ready to burn everything. The tension staged by the orchestration is close to the explosion. To note this detail of this little melody on the guitar to add the traditional folklore which makes the situation even more realistic. BCNR continues to surprise us with the explosive "Good Will Hunting" where we had never found the Londoners as "Rock" as on this delicious demonstration. It is a deflagration of energy in its raw state that spreads around us, especially thanks to this devastating riff or this fiery song, it is absolutely fascinating.
Throughout the album, it feels like everything BCNR touches turns to gold. Take for example the ballad "Harldern", it is an example of beauty in all its splendor. Whether it's the multiple little touches of improvisation, the interactions between the different instruments, the mini-solo that pass the baton and complement each other. During 5 minutes you are like lulled, transported to paradise and each note resounds like an enchantment, a dose of dopamine ultra concentrated. What is totally incredible is that this song is almost entirely taken from a live performance in total improvisation, you have to realize the alchemy of BCNR. Many speak of the leadership and genius of Isaak Wood, but one should not underestimate the entire BCNR entity. I mean, maybe in the future Wood will be able to shine as a solo artist or in another band, but I don't think it will ever be the same as the magic that this band is able to produce. Each member functions as an organ. If you're trying to cook, it's not enough to have the recipe and the right ingredients, you have to manage the preparation perfectly. It's the same here. "Mark's Theme" is a tribute built around a short instrumental, led by saxophonist Lewis Evans, who lost his uncle during the Covid. Without any words, this song remains heartbreaking, you have to understand the weight of the mourning but I also think that the message goes even beyond the tribute it is an awareness that life is sometimes short, as much for yourself as for the people you cherish.
A bit of tenderness comes to embrace you on "The Place Where He Inserted the Blade", a wonderful 7 mi-nute ballad that shows a warm side that we never knew from BNCR. Everything is muffled with jazzy and pop elements, it's totally revitalizing. I think I'm very happy to see that BNCR is able to shine in some lighter things, when all indications are that the band's tortured and cursed spirit testifies to a poignant fatality. So far, BCNR also proves that album songs are as wonderful as singles, making "Ants From Up There" an almost flawless album. And it's not the ending that will prove me wrong. The stratospheric "Snow Globes" spans 9 minutes of pure magic, including 3 minutes of instrumentals. This Post-Rock/Slowcore ballad blossoms on a shattering narrative, like a fire that burns down little by little, leaving only a pile of dust behind. Overall, "Snow Globes" maintains an absolutely languid main instrumental base, but this is complemented by multiple improvisations of pure power. One must understand the divine performance of the drummer Charlie Wayne, or the amplification of the tortured vocal of Isaak Wood. This song can be summed up with a simple "whoa" so much it makes sense. Finally, "Ants From Up There" concludes with "Basketball Shoes", a three-part medley of 12 minutes of bliss that was already a fan favorite during the live shows. It's a great idea to have it on here because you can't miss it. I think "Basketball Shoes" pretty much sums up what "Ants From Up There" is all about. It's the perfect climax and conclusion to singer/guitarist Isaak Wood's departure, like an unforgettable salute.
Sincerely there is nothing more to say, "Ants From Up There" is a real lesson of music, this album concen-trates all the humanity in 58 breathtaking minutes. Certainly, there is a lot of inspiration here from Slint, Arcade Fire or Bob Dylan, BNCR did not revolutionize the Pop Rock, but it is certain that their timeless signa-ture and their singularity allow to make "Ants From Up There", an album simply unique in its kind. Thank you for this gift.
|2||Chaos Space Marine / 95|
|3||Concorde / 100|
|4||Bread Song / 100|
|5||Good Will Hunting / 90|
|6||Haldern / 85|
|7||Mark’s Theme / 80|
|8||The Place Where He Inserted the Blade / 100|
|9||Snow Globes / 100|
|10||Basketball Shoes / 100|