Black Country, New Road have been quite an anomaly within the industry leading up to their debut album. Despite only originating in 2018, deriving from a malfunctioning act that was broken apart due to allegations, and only possessing a very compact catalog, composed of a mere collection of 4 singles, they have acquired a sizeable following, especially within a rather particular subsection of music listeners. This swiftly obtained fan base is only merited, as they have proceeded cautiously into the scene with an easily identifiable post rock application, which isn’t thoroughly authentic and that has led to the band being likened to fellow post rock pioneer collective Slint, which would’ve always been unavoidable, however, even if they have undeniably absorbed some key components of such, they have still found themselves able of spinning them around in a manner that strikes as forward-thinking in the present.
Anyhow, a lot of their recent popularity, for a newcomer group at least, can be mainly attributed to black midi, which they have emerged under the wing of and which whom they have had a close relationship, primarly performing adjacent to them at shows and venues in the most premature stages of Black Country, New Road’s careers.
With this meteoric and intelligent ascendance, astutely taking advantage of their surroundings, you would’ve expected a much more trouble-free roll-out of singles in regards to their debut, even so that didn’t necessarily occur. One track after another, extensive ones let me add, and the predicament they had set themselves in commenced to come across as worrisome. Four songs within a regular record wouldn’t have had much of a substantial impact on the listening experience, however, it is a post rock album we’re referring to here, a subgenre abundant in lengthy tunes and Black Country, New Road had only shown to not stray away too much from that blueprint.
“For the first time” had been announced and we were promised 2 additional tracks, one of which would be an instrumental, and two reworks of pre-existing cuts, those being “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses”, amounting to 6 songs in total. While this conducted an outcome that isn’t as alarming as it might have been otherwise, it still doesn’t prove to be the ideal one. Despite this atypical plight, the exposure and buzz around the group had only been raising and most likely reached an all-time high for 2021, as of now.
And finally, after months of eagerly awaiting, today the album released, as it had been assured. The teaser tracks had manifested this eclectic arrangement of sounds, incorporating an eccentric and slightly abstract lyrical attitude from the primary vocalist Isaac Wood, these constantly evocative, dense and stimulating guitar riffs accompanied by wide-ranging production preparations, improvisational structures within these unorthodox tunes and an idiosyncratic vocal style that consistently rode this enthralling midpoint between melodious vocalizations and spoken word mixtures.
With the official release, we are essentially provided with most of those attributes disguised in perplexing showings. The “Instrumental” track sets the tone for the whole body of work and increases its pace, unfolding this inky, otherworldly, mystical, fuzzy and futuristic main melody that loops throughout its full-length, rapidly ingraining your mind, while embraced in these breezy saxophone zigzags. While purely instrumentalized recordings can often evince to be very lackluster in comparison to straightforward songs, this one is worth the wait alone and perfectly sums up what the project is going to consist of in its chaotic configurations, especially for people who aren’t familiarized with the singles. Conversely, while “Instrumental” resonates as a fluent and nearly effortless venture, which coincidentally pans out to be remarkably indelible, even for a trival instrumental; the terminal and supplementary tune “Opus” is where the the band really got serious and, consequently, comitted to their most adventurous proposition to date. It kicks off in a promising way, opening up with this relentless, tumultuous and speedy demonstration of jazz fusion adaptations, just before quickly shifting into a much more sombre landscape for the verses, vaguely reminiscent of other exhibitions early on. Having said that, I, even so, believe that the vocal performances on this cut aren’t first-class, particularly when colliding with others on the record, however, the sonic palettes solitarily frame “Opus” to arise as one of the most ineffable experiences in 2021 thus far. Furthermore, as I have had described Black Country, New Road as perspicacious, they are only hereby capable of exploiting their environment and so wisely depositing the only “song” we hadn’t had an encounter with before, a conventional one at least, at the end of album, effectively latching onto the listeners’ attention.
As for the rectifications on the aforementioned singles, they turn out to be quite disappointing. Surely, if you have listened to those 1000 times, you will certainly notice minor dissimilarities in the album versions, but if you’re just a casual listener and you haven’t heard the singles more than a few times, you could’ve probably sworn that they were the same. Even if you go back and seek to juxtapose the two models, you’ll assuredly struggle. “Athens, France” is the most flagrant in transmutations, as it sees its infamous Ariana Grande line being removed, amongst a host of other subtle lyrical rearrangements, alongside the moaning that was present in between the verses; this is yet only leaning more towards a downgrade, just as the other revise does, as the record reproduction just has less character and its songwriting streams less swimmingly and thus only coming across as a desperate attempt at deluding the auditor into considering that the album contains more depth within it than it actually does. Altogether, the sole similitude that surface from these modifications is this incomprehensible endeavour at withdrawing sexual innuendoes from the tracks, as not only is the groaning detached from “Athens, France”, but also some potentially erotic expressions that were articulated on the primordial “Sunglasses”, which are now replaced by repetitions from the original statement. Apart from some very tenuous instrumental passages which grant more width to these songs, the redesigns are nothing to write home about.
Above all the hurdles that may have transpired beyond its release, “For the first time” still prevails as one of the most boundary-pushing debuts in recent memory and likely to rank high within countless year end lists, even if we are only in February currently. To put it into perspective, there are, at most, a handful of projects that met this one’s quality in the last year. What this effort may have lacked in new material, which could’ve embellished its end product, it makes up for it in virtually every item that made the singles acclaimed to begin with, that primarly being experimentation and progression. It’s evident that there is a deficiency of pristine submissions on display, yet all of these tracks are now seen in an unfamiliar light when they are adjusted back-to-back within the work; on it there is organized sequencing that shapes it up to be much more conceptually rewarding, as all of these formerly individual tunes just hit a different spot when they are heard in conjunction and additionally reveal characteristics that may have been otherwise overlooked.
With this long-winded post rock mode there is one song on the effort that just seems as misplaced and disoriented within it, precisely since it is positioned on the penultimate spot, namely “Track X”. This cut was already the weak link in the pile of singles, therefore it’s not shocking for it to identify as a bit misconception, as when contrasting with others that nearly crack the 10 minute mark, this one sitting at a skimpy 4:44 duration doesn’t aid its shortage in development.
The off-kilter and immersive instrumental package of this record is genuinely stupendous, it never ceases to mutate throughout the tracklisting; if you’re ever receiving multiple repetitious instrumental loops concomitantly for more than a minute, it is definitely an exception, even within the cuts that are overflowing in vocalizations. Moreover, whereas the vocalist can admittedly be an acquired taste with his quirky signature method, which is simultaneously extremely passionate but also spoken for a vast majority of the time, it should nonetheless be undemanding for the effort to be entertaining to someone who doesn’t have a soft spot for his vocals, as the instrumentation is only implausible for a modern release.
As it is a band that is formed by 7 seperate minds, the result only happens to reverberate as that; a hivemind was behind these gigantic schemes - the strategy is so unconventional that it can be a tad arduous to categorize. When all is said and done, its most vital element is that it balances its experimental tendencies with a journey that is still comforting and tranquilizing.
“For the first time” is, curiously, the very first album in 2021 that truly deserves the “Must Hear” denomination, in every sense of the term.
Favorite tracks: Instrumental, Science Fair, Sunglasses and Opus.
Least favorite tracks: Athens, France.