Written Before Listen
So prior to this review, I have never heard a single Black Country, New Road song. This album is literally all over the place though In music circles. I first heard it seeing on RYMs front page and getting more than positive reviews all over the place. Getting 5 stars on both NME and The Guardian, ending up on Fantanos loved list and being the best album of 2021 on RYM during the time of this review being written. It turns out that they started getting buzz with their single “Sunglasses” that actually appears on this album and it got praise for being an experimental dive into post-punk. They are already critical darlings of the music scene so I was anticipating something really good. Lets see what BCNR comes up with.
So when it comes to a debut album, you’re bound to make comparisons and influences. There is one band that comes immediately into mind. C’mon. It’s a Post-Rock/Post-Punk record that spans 40 minutes with 6 tracks and a vocalist that doesnt really sing often. That sounds like I just gave a brief explanation of why Slint’s Spiderland is a unique record. Other than that, the frontman really reminds me of McMahon but also reminds me a lot of Nick Cave. The instrumentation on the other hand is very post punk inspired. The wide range guitar tones, fuzzy bass and orchestral instruments all have a sinister aura to it that would appear on an Early swans record or even the Swans revival era too. Despite the influence being pretty clear, the way they emulate these influences on wax is quite satisfying. The lyrics of Slint, the delivery of Nick Cave mixed with the instrumentation of Swans or Birthday Party sounds like an insanely gruesome and scary record. Matter of fact it is. It really is.
So to be straight forward, Black Country New Road is more than just a Post-Rock/Post-Punk hybrid and we can tell it right away from the instrumental opener which takes influence from Jewish music out of anything. Even then it has elements of Mars Volta esc improv and very danceable punk music. Even the most straightforward track “Athens France” has a little bit of uniqueness to it with its minimalist arrangements and slow tempoed riffs in the middle of the track sounds straight out of vintage indie rock. “Science Fair” is one of the most surreal and anxiety inducing tracks and thats due to its genre bending with Noise Rock,Punk, Krautrock,Jazz and even some early Swans worship too. Before you can kind of grasp the sound that they create, you have a track like “Track X” where its the most classical influenced track that sounds closer to Chamber Pop than Post-Punk/Post-Rock. Black Country New Road is a new band to look for.
So something that stood out to me right off of the bat was the vocal delivery of frontman Isaac Wood. It made me intrigued to look at his lyrics. Surely the influences of Slint and Nick Cave appear but there is so much more. Not only he is influenced by the songwriting of Slint but he takes that influence and nearly matches the impact that Slint was able to give. It is told from the opening lines of “Athens France” that gives a very Edgar Allan Poe vibe right off the bat. The song is about a young person that makes extreme mistakes instead of the “being young” label that usually comes from a teen making mistakes. Isaac talks about sexual assault, discrimination and more and how that’s how it felt when his previous band broke up. With “Science Fair” the Slint vibes return which talks about an incident at a science fair where he accidentally burns a female with methane gas. The girl winds up to be at a famous circle due to her freak show look. he sees her again only to be seen as a stranger which makes him feel even more of an outcast and target than what he was originally. We also get the religious references in “Track X” combining religion with love. Those are all great creative ideas but The lyrical epic although is “Sunglasses”. It’s all about how the upper class can change your mind state and using sunglasses as a symbol. He starts by talking about first world problems and how that evolves into him being ignorant and self-centered. He also drops multiple pop culture references which accentuates the imagery by a vast amount. He name drops everyone from Fonzi to Richard Hell. Scott Walker to Kanye. Isaac is truly one songwriter to look out for.
So Black Country is not your usual rock band. Its much more than guitar, drums and bass. They’re far from the first to do this. They’re a post rock band so they’re bound to have orchestral arrangements or something thats out of the ordinary in contemporary rock music. There band consists of two guitarists, bassist, a drummer, a violin player, saxophonist and keyboardist. Its to some a typical Post-Rock lineup but their fusion of Punk and Regional Music make their instrumental palette sound a little more unique than just a Post-Punk/Post-Rock group.
So despite me loving this record, there are some things that I want to get out of the way before I reveal the score. It’s just not fully developed. I feel like Black Country New Road just showed up what they can do in the future. Other than that, I’m loving this thing
As of February 27,2021, this is album of the year