On February 4 of this year, English post-rock ensemble Black Country, New Road (BCNR) released their sophomore album Ants From Up There. Four days earlier, lead singer Isaac Wood announced his departure from the band, citing mental health issues. Wood released a statement, “Hello everyone, I have bad news which is that I have been feeling sad and afraid too. And I have tried to make this not true, but it is the kind of sad and afraid feeling that makes it hard to play guitar and sing at the same time.” As a result, Black Country, New Road cancelled their upcoming American tour.
It is unusual that the release of a band’s sophomore album marks the end of an era. However, that seems to be the case in my eyes for BCNR. Not taking away from the brilliant musicianship of the band as a whole, it was Wood’s lyrics and vocals that made the band’s debut album, For the First Time, the standout of 2021 for me.
Ants From Up There doesn’t restrict itself to one sound and, in doing so, creates a singular sound of its own. Think Arcade Fire crossed with Sam’s Town-era, Killers crossed with David Byrne discovering Klezmer for the first time. There isn’t one track on the album that this reviewer could describe as average or worse. Wood maintains the pop culture-sprinkled lyrics from their debut, “She had Billie Eilish style. Moving to Berlin for a little while” he croons on “Good Will Hunting”, almost as if he’s trying to create the next viral TikTok sound.
It’s surprisingly cohesive considering there’s an awful lot happening at any given second in the approximately 58 minutes of the album. Take two tracks, Wood indulges in his wordiness (“Concorde”) and a deliberate lack of wordiness (“Bread Song”) to create two distinct highlights. “Chaos Space Marine” features a Bryan Ferry-esque introductory musical solo by the violinist, pianist, and saxophonist. “Mark’s Theme” is an interlude in tribute to the saxophonist’s uncle who passed from Covid last year.
However, the single standout track from Ants From Up There is its final one, “Basketball Shoes”. The scope of the track is frankly remarkable even at 12 minutes and 37 seconds long. The track washes over the listener more than anything else, almost like reverse meditation but with the same cathartic result. In more ways than one, Ants From Up There is an album for 2022.