After their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album For the First Time, this ‘post-punk’ seven-piece are back with their second album Ants from Up There. The term ‘post-punk’, although originally used to coin the band’s style (like that of their UK friends Black Midi, Shame, Squid, etc.), is really now a loose term to describe their new release. As saxophonist Lewis Evans described it, “it’s way more palatable than the first album…people might hate it, but we like it.”
It is hard to think that people will hate Ants from Up There. This album is a lot… it is sad, it is epic, but it is a lot. Knowing what we know now about lead singer and guitarist Isaac Wood leaving the band just four days before this release, the album makes total sense. It is recommended to listen to this new album from start to finish in its entirety. Ants from Up There is what one would describe as a modern-day opera, or a novella put to music. Chaos Space Marine is a fun, jilted upbeat track, which is rare on this album. Concorde is a tragic love song and Wood is a master of lyrics, pouring his heart into this deceptively optimistic track… “But, for less than a moment, we'd share the same sky, and then Isaac will suffer, Concorde will fly.”
The absolute hail-mary track on this album is The Place Where He Inserted the Blade. This track is like the final aria of this opera, it is tragic, heart-wrenching and makes Wood’s exit from the band sting just a little bit more. Although a ‘long’ track at just over 7 minutes, every second is necessary, from the false ‘upbeat’ pulsing initial verse to the overwhelming chaos of the final minutes where all instruments and chorus join together… This track really feels like the end of something very special. The final two tracks Snow Globes and Basketball Shoes feel like an encore, like a sign that things are going to be great again. Basketball Shoes in particular is unique, it uses fragments of the previous nine tracks to create almost a summary of the journey Black Country, New Road have just taken us on…one last hoorah!
Credit must go to the producer Sergio Maschetzko, who executed every nuance and tone perfectly, letting the instrumentals shine and letting Wood’s lyrics stand out amongst the chaos. Often it is easy to lose instruments in a mix, especially when using ‘a-typical’ instruments within a band setting, however, every instrumental line had impact and intention, making this album even more poignant. Ants from Up There is something so rare, it is experimental without being hard to digest and it leaves you with a slight stinging feeling in your heart… is that sadness or is that a longing for more?