Black Country, New Road’s sophomore LP, “Ants From Up There”, is the type of album that makes your standard Spotify subscription seem like an unbelievably good deal. It displays BC, NR at the height of their powers — a finely-tuned machine brimming with creative elixir. “Ants From Up There” was released at the beginning of this year, and despite not quite reaching mass appeal, it has remained culturally relevant from consistent praise by prominent critics in the music community. With its refreshing style, its unique nack to linger with you after you listen to it and the seeming enormity of its universe, there’s a lot to talk about.
It’s hard to do the album justice in such few words because the project itself covers an insane amount of ground. “Chaos Space Marine” is a shot of soma mixed into a pint of surreal escapism. “Concorde” is a dying tree that refuses to let go of its final leaf. “Haldern” is a glowing candelabrum in the kind of archaic mansion that you just don’t make it out of. “Good Will Hunting” is a warm evening on the Mediterranean in July. “Basketball Shoes” is a three-part series of nostalgia-induced paralysis. “Ants From Up There” wants to do a multitude of things — and it actually does (with seeming ease).
One of the most endearing aspects of this album is the fact that a lot of the songs are so personal and genuine that they nearly border on inaccessible. The intertextuality between other pieces of art, the band members’ own personal lives and British culture and history make the project a somewhat formidable jungle to trudge through if you’re the type of listener who really wants to ‘get’ each album you listen to.
But this type of perspective is not in the spirit of “Ants From Up There”, a piece of art that is not a story or a message but a pulsing, indefatigable, jumbled-up ball of power, emotion and the fleeting sensations that help us define being human. There is no room for specifics, just experience. The music has this engulfing quality that almost leaves you feeling hollow when the record stops — something that parallels the emptiness that Concorde leaves behind throughout the album. BC, NR has mastered the art of building and releasing tension — “Ants From Up There” will have you both squirming in your seat and cathartically staring at the wall in front of you. It’s one of those things where it’s best to just buckle yourself in and hope that you get off the rollercoaster in one piece.
In its infinite complexity and richness, the album gives its audience something new to chew on during and after each listen, but there is nothing required to enjoy and especially feel the album during the first listen. The unique quality to be both instantly and consistently rewarding is what has given the album both general and critical acclaim. It is intelligent without being belletristic; it is entertaining without being cheap; it is emotional without being melodramatic. It has everything you need to come back wanting seconds, and then it actually makes good on its promise by being so much more than you remembered.
It is almost difficult to believe that the BC, NR that made “For the first time” and the one that made “Ants From Up There” are the same band. While “For the first time” is a terrific album — angsty, electrifying and sobering all at once — BC, NR obviously matured rapidly in the short span between the two projects. The implacable screaming that could be found on tracks like “Science Fair” and “Sunglasses” is restrained and focused on “Ants From Up There”. The lyricism, while still being sparse and vague for the most part, is much more cohesive and constructive — images are constantly reappearing and molding, building a bigger and bigger world as you trek further and further into its 58-minute runtime. To capture perfection on a second try makes BC, NR all the more awe-inspiring, and it makes their subsequent loss of Isaac Wood (vocals) all the more disheartening.
I do not foresee BC, NR ever receiving the recognition they deserve but I do not think they will ever be forgotten, either. From what I could gather on social media after its release, this latest album was truly resonating with a niche but fiercely dedicated fanbase — and that means something. People all over are being inspired and feeling seen with this project, which is something that doesn’t just fade away. It does not belong to any specific moment in time but to the listeners who choose to accept it. The album is a chaos space marine in its own way, and it’s looking for a place to live.