Ants From Up There (studio album) by Black Country, New Road
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Black Country, New Road bestography
Ants From Up There is ranked as the best album by Black Country, New Road.
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The tracks on this album have an average rating of 87 out of 100 (all tracks have been rated).
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This album is rated in the top 1% of all albums on BestEverAlbums.com. This album has a Bayesian average rating of 85.2/100, a mean average of 83.9/100, and a trimmed mean (excluding outliers) of 85.5/100. The standard deviation for this album is 16.6.
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To outside observers, Black Country New Road's early trajectory might have seemed like an elaborate inside joke. The video to breakout single "Sunglasses" was comprised entirely of stills from go-pro footage found online, record deals from typical rock labels were rejected in favour of dance music imprint Ninja Tune, and the cover art to their debut For the First Time was a photo from the copyright-free stock image website Unsplash (replete with watermark and all). Preempting critics by crowning themselves "the world's second best Slint tribute act" was a title so densely packed with self-consciousness, it threatened a post-ironic singularity.
Yet even as the band's self-effacing social media presence eschewed the humourless press junket attached to indie rock bands of decades past, it became undeniable just how proficient BCNR really were. Their inclusion of klezmer music with a violin and saxophone separated them from the meat-and-two-veg guitar and drums of the post-post-post-punk circuit. Instrumental detours that pushed ten minutes felt necessary rather than indulgent. Despite the heavy doses of irony the band doused themselves in, the fanfare surrounding them had become inescapable.
So when their second album Ants From Up There was announced, the jettisoning of this tightly-choreographed identity caused concern. Lead single "Chaos Space Marine" was named after a tabletop wargaming faction, and was coupled with artwork whose unappealing quality could no longer be pinned on being sourced from Unsplash. The song itself shedded the experimental edge of their previous sound in favour of group vocal "yeahs" and rousing strings reminiscent of Funeral-era Arcade Fire. Wasn't this path well-trodden already? And more worryingly, hadn't we seen where it led to? The commitment to kitsch that had once been endearing, suddenly felt in danger of growing stale.
These fears were unfounded. Ants From Up There is unequivocally an album about love – a surprising revelation given frontman Isaac Wood's usual sardonicism. Almost entirely absent on For the First Time, love's only mention came via a foolhardy declaration during a black midi concert. The moment is trivialised, ridiculed even. Love, in Wood's eyes, is something to be held at arm's length and regarded with suspicion.
Not so here. Love is presented not in the abstract, but in its singular form – love bottled and treasured through countless gestures passed over almost as quickly as they are offered up. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching lyric on the entire record is at the same time devastatingly domestic: "Everytime I make lunch/For anyone else in my head/I end up dreaming of you".
Much of the reason this album has provoked such a visceral reaction (on both sides of the fence) lies in its uncompromising depiction of adolescent romance. Between the revealing comparisons to Billie Eilish and the reverent motif of a concorde, Wood's beloved is simultaneously the girl next door and a god on earth; the kind of idolisation we might be urged to baulk at, had we not ourselves been guilty of committing. Wood's lyrics uniquely capture the drudgery presented by post-Brexit Britain (at one point Berlin is cast as the site of metropolitan escape), and how in the face of economic uncertainty, a natural defence mechanism is to retreat into the security of a relationship. And of course, how impotent it feels to discover that isn't secure either.
Just days before the album's release, Wood shared a statement that he would be leaving the band "in spite of six of the greatest people I know", citing struggles with his deteriorating mental health. Apart from anything else, Ants From Up There is an exhaustive testimony to the kind of toll documenting his breakup may well have had. As monumental closer "Basketball Shoes" draws the record to an end, it seems inevitable that Wood should be the only figure left lying in his bed.
Keeping the door open for Wood to return, the band confirmed their intentions to continue, though they would no longer be performing any material from their first, nor their imminently arriving second album. The decision had the unintended consequence of consigning Ants From Up There to the past before it ever existed in the present, instantly rendering it a relic to an era already lost. The only available sentiment was nostalgia, each song trapped in amber upon immediate contact with the air. The threat of dissolution right at their ascendency meanwhile, recalled spectres of other cult-favourites that never outlived their first two records: Joy Division, Neutral Milk Hotel – Slint.
The decision ultimately seems the right one; it would've rung hollow to have heard anyone else sing words so inexorably tied to Wood's lovelorn sincerity. Nor did it appear they needed to – after cancelling their US and April tours, the remaining six members had effortlessly written a dozen new songs that became their setlist for the rest of the year.
Last month I was lucky enough to see them at Kensington's Bush Hall in the first of a trio of filmed performances for an as-yet-unknown project. On its eve, a cryptic email invited ticket holders to the debut production of When the Whistle Thins, the latest work from fictional "master playwright" Hubert Dalcrose that concerns a group of farmers gathering for a harvest. Attendees were reassured they would not be required to arrive in costume, though the band themselves were donned in appropriately rustic attire (the dungarees unlikely raised eyebrows among the art school kids in attendance).
The point of the theatrics remained inscrutable, if a playful reminder of the band's signature cheek, while the songs themselves easily matched the feverish ecstasy of their previous work. As my eyes passed over the deliberately crude backdrop of rolling hills however, I caught myself yearning for a sincere iteration of a band otherwise known for their wry sense of humour. The irony wasn't lost on me.
Can't help feeling slighted when it seems like you missed the boat and can only look at generational touchstones- or maybe that's just how much this clearly pronounces itself as a watershed release, especially by comparing it to perhaps one of the past. The Funeral comparisons are surprisingly not as far-fetched as you'd think, as this uses plenty of the angular post-punk and new-wave riffs to rotate what is essentially lush, gigantic, pure-guava art pop, only this has no use for brevity whatsoever especially in the singer's at-times too-precious and intentionally fragmented stream-of-conscious delivery and instant stylistic changeups that feel less like quick lane changes and more like seeing how long they can act like fighter pilots in a spiffy sports car. It's also far more pronounced in it's use of their excellent music school education, even if some of the sounds are less obscure than previous releases.
But in the end... I just feel a bit too removed. Given comparisons, especially lyrically, to Funeral were always dooming this to such high standards (and whoah nelly supposedly chief lines like "She had Billie Eilish style" and "I came, a gentle hill racer/I was breathless/up on every mountain" have none of the "I carved your name/across my eyelids" and "we were just kids hanging from power lines" immediacy), many times it's so much more cogent when it's trying less to push out smarter-than-the-average bear overstuffed genre amalgmations and embraces the more lush and tense chamber pop with numerous small flourishes, sort of working as a much sadder art-school XTC. The first half of this honestly kind of went over my head, but the second half is considerably more deft and even poignant at times as it starts to feel comfortable inside it's own wired sound, and even some of the wilder mashups actually work quite well (especially the closing track, with a middle headswerve into shimmering-but-still-rogue 90s style emo that could even fit on The Lonesome Crowded West).
It seems sacriligious to plop yourself right on the fence here, but this feels like an album that finds itself just a bit too late and feels like promise for something greater to come, though considering they've had an At-the-Drive-In like sudden splinter after their wider breakthrough this could be a fitting end to what has always come across as Tower-of-Babel like ambitions.
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This is a very good album. I don´t like the vocals so much, though, they seem to get a little bit dull after a while. I´m not saying they are particulary bad, but it´s the only weakness of the album IMO. The best of this band is yet to come I think
Love this album. It almost gets better and better with every listen.
Top 3 songs for me:
2. Snow Globes
3. Basketball Shoes
Yet another imaginative, flawless-sounding record from BCNR. Even if there's not quite the surprise of their debut, Ants From Up There is grand and full-hearted as they come. Never a dull moment.
People will either find this album boring or find it brilliant. I am of the latter and hope they survive after Isaac Woods left the band.
Top 3 Songs
1. The Place Where He Inserted The Blade
3. Good Will Hunting
I like BCNR a lot and think this may be their best work yet. I'm very excited to see where they'll go next, especially following the departure of vocalist Isaac Wood.
Everything feels so fresh and forward looking: The lyricism combining very specific everyday observations with great emotion, the amazing jazz-rock instrumentalisation, the angsty voice, the build ups and shifts in energy in each song.
It's been a long time since I've fallen in love with a rock album like this.
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