|2022||Ants From Up There||Black Country, New Road||★★★★★||97||Rock||Art Rock||Post Rock|
Following up a debut that is as beloved by a fanbase as Black Country, New Road’s For the first time will always be a tough task for a band. That’s especially the case when a band creates such a unique and distinctive sound on their debut, which features Eastern European melodies, math rock rhythms, wild dynamic shifts and vocals that were poetic, highly personal but also came across as somewhat sarcastic and unhinged.
Somehow, the band exceeded expectations with record two, and not by doubling down on their original sound or falling back on more conventional instrumentation, but by almost transforming what they were conveying entirely.
Ants From Up Here is an absolutely beautiful album filled with warmth, life and personality. The chamber instruments in each song build effortlessly to shape the emotion being conveyed through the lyrics. The band doesn’t follow traditional song structures too often, but the music never feels uncomfortable or forced. Some of the best and biggest moments on the record are these buildups of chamber music and group singing, which are reminiscent of peak Arcade Fire if you had to find a comparison but without the childlike, innocent aesthetic.
From the violins to the pianos, to the horns, the classical guitar and all the rest, there isn’t an album that sounds quite like this, or that moves so flawlessly both within each song and as a full package. Averaging almost 6 minutes a song (and with two songs over 9 minutes in length), you wouldn’t expect Ants From Up Here to be as accessible as it is, but the record doesn’t drag at all and keeps you fully engaged.
You also hardly ever find vocal performances as emotionally moving and authentic sounding as Isaac Wood’s here. He sounds like he’s just talking at times instead of singing, but you can hear and feel the agony in his voice, the regret and doubt he sometimes has, and the reminiscence of love and relationships. The ballads are emotional, but he also throws in funny lines, some self depicting comparisons that make it all feel warm, lively and, most importantly, real. The lyrics can be heart wrenching and extremely personal, but still relatable and easy to understand. The themes and symbolism are cleverly placed, and return throughout the album in a way that makes it feel familiar and more impactful with each return listen.
Ants From Up Here grabbed my attention from the opening saxophone notes and strings on the intro and “Chaos Space Marine,” all the way through the Midwest-emo section of “Basketball Shoes” that transitions into the epic, anthemic, singalong-style melody that closes the record. “The Place Where Her Inserted the Blade” and “Good Will Hunting” are probably my favorite individual tracks, but each song on the album can stand alone as its own, fully formed thought, as well as perfectly as part of the complete project. I could go track-by-track to point out the best moments, but there is so much depth in the lush instrumentation, so much meaning in the lyrics and so much movement in the music that I’d be writing for hours. I can’t say enough good things about this record.