Album Review: Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

By Venus Rittenberg, Editorial Director

[Ninja Tune; 2022]

Rating: 9/10

Key Tracks: “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade,” “Snow Globes,” “Basketball Shoes”

Even when they had just two songs to their name, it was clear that Black Country, New Road was something special. Ants From Up There sees them fully realized, evolving past the already excellent For the first Time. Similar to For the first Time, Ants From Up There sees the band taking songs from their legendary early live sets into the studio, but unlike For the first Time, this album also includes new material. The album is a totally different sonic experience from its predecessor. It sees the band shifting away from their post-punk roots towards chamber-pop and post-rock, a-la Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

The pop components are immediately apparent from the start of “Chaos Space Marine,” a string-filled upbeat song that makes me what I can only describe as giddy – It’s just so joyous. I don’t know how anyone could listen to a song that infectious and not smile. “Concorde” and “Bread Song” follow, two more singles. Both are beautiful, but less upbeat than “Chaos Space Marine.” “Bread Song” is a BCNR classic from their early live sets, and the studio version delivers on that built up hype quite well. It’s a unique post-rock breakup song that is a must-listen. “Good Will Hunting” is the first song on the album to not have a prior release, and is a gorgeous love song. The verse “it’s just been a weekend / but in my mind / we summer in France / with our genius daughters now / and you teach me to play the piano” continually stops me dead in my tracks. 

The back half of the album also contains one of the most affecting love songs I’ve ever heard, “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade.” The chorus describes lead singer Isaac Wood dramatically reacting to messing up cooking a meal and his lover calming him down. “Show me the place where he inserted the blade / I’ll praise the Lord, burn my house / I get lost, I freak out / you come home and hold me tight.” The experience it describes is so human and mundane, but that’s what makes it so captivating, and the verses are incredible as well. The music is lovely, filled with pianos and an amazing background chorus.

The penultimate track is my personal favorite, the 9-minute post-rock odyssey, “Snow Globes.” In true post-rock fashion it’s a slow, yet a rewarding build. The mixing of the drums caused some stir upon release, but I find the overwhelmingness to add to the song. The lyrics are quite fascinating here as well. Wood repeats the refrain, gradually increasing in volume until he is yelling, “oh god of weather, Henry knows / snow globes don’t shake on their own.” There is so much desperation in his voice, like he is pleading with this “god of weather” for the sake of “Henry.” The song decrescendos back into a simple repeated string line, the same one the song begins with, before it finally dissipates into nothingness, making way for the long-anticipated closer, another classic from their live sets, “Basketball Shoes.”

“Basketball Shoes” is nothing short of mind-blowing. Another post-rock slow-build, it can be divided into three separate parts. The first part has a gorgeous saxophone part, one of the best instrumental lines on the whole album. Wood’s verses are great too, and this is one of his best vocal performances. Part two is more upbeat, filled with energy, almost reminiscent of “Chaos Space Marine.” The song continues to build, quite intensely, to its climax. Interestingly, the original version of the final segment of the song was a depiction of a wet dream about Charli XCX, but it has evolved past this at this point, even though it still alludes to this with the line “in my bed sheets, now wet / of Charlie, I pray to forget.” The official lyrics have changed the spelling of Charlie to include an e at the end, distancing this verse from its origins. The studio version of this final segment is breathtaking, one of the most beautiful works of music I’ve heard in a long time. It captures the feeling of the entire album, it is quite easy to see why Wood called it the blueprint for the whole record. It’s a stunning way to end a truly special album. Truly one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard.

Ants From Up There is one of the best records in recent memory, and one of the greatest works of chamber pop and post-rock to grace the 21st century. It solidifies Black Country, New Road as one of the most important bands of our time, like a modern Velvet Underground. They are truly prolific, and it’s going to be thrilling to see where the band goes next. The departure of Isaac Wood is heartbreaking, but the whole band is incredibly talented, so I am sure they will live on and continue to make exciting and truly ground-breaking music.

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