Black Country, New Road’s much-anticipated debut album For the first time has just landed here…
Black Country, New Road are a very very now band, but not in that too now for their own good kind of way of so many “now” bands. At times Black Country, New Road are a beautifully shot six part Swedish crime drama, that touch of noir, that spoken word, that Eugene Robinson Oxbow approach to narration, that slightly awkward (but never ever too awkward) palette and watching those kids all dressed up like Richard Hell – a surprisingly sweet talker, invisible in these sunglasses. I’m so hip and now, who’s so here and now? Leave who out of it? Burn what’s left of what? The film of that beautifully shot six part Swedish crime drama just got burn in the projector, that and the chemtrails and the points and the pokes and the jabs and the sense of pace that does get a little claustrophobic (in a good way) now and again.
We were waiting for this one, they haven’t let us down, Track X comes with peels of beauty, Track X rings out with warmth, each one of these tracks feels like a piece of art. For The First Time is very very much an album, a body of work, pictures at an exhibition. Opus almost gallops, or maybe more of a can can? Opus leads you high-kicking into more of something, leads the listener somewhere, it sounds like familiar ground but then again it doesn’t. Six tracks in, Opus dances, it sounds almost Eastern European, it sounds like something happening over there in the semi dark over on the hill, Opus does indeed sound epic, it takes you up, everyone is coming up, Opus takes you back into the dark and then out again is some massive way, they do sound massive here, falling to the rising flame? Opus closes the album, it knits the whole thing together in a rather forthright way.
And you go straight back in with more of an idea of what’s happening. Second time around and Science Fair really really does grab hold of things and just when it feels like everything is going to take off instead they choose to pull it in and tease us as they undress it all – they make so many things, covered in what? Always been a who? Dignity intact? Takes of things that are clearly going to reveal themselves the more we dig in – tomorrow they take the reigns, they know where we’re going, we don’t quite, not yet. And there goes the silk red ribbon, and vaulting through the gallery, whooo, this is good.
The previous tastes, the singles and such have been good, Black Country, New Road only really really properly make sense when you have the whole album though, they do feel very much like a proper album band, very much about a proper body of work, don’t make the mistake of forming an opinion based on one track encountered on YouTube or where ever you encounter new music these days. Cars are going beep beep, like a modern Scott Walker, no, that was their observation, an observation made of someone else, there’s a lot of observing. And There’s hints of all kinds of things here, Pulp, Ahleuchatistas, The Enablers, Oxbow, idles, the much missed drama of Lapsus Linguae and yes okay then, hints of Scott Walker in there with that wiry tension the almost prog-edged soundscapes, jazz-flavoured tastes of post-punk, t everything far from obvious though, everything alive, everything alive with an energy of their own, with a ferocity, with colours that others maybe don’t attempt to mix together, accessible, restoring, a feel, Black Country, New Roads have a feel, they have the right feel, nothing wrong with being a “now” band, they are more that just that though, For The First Time is a fine fine debut album, For The First Time is just what we want really, just what we need right now. The first great album of the year, The seven-piece are clearly something special. This is an album is that captures a new band and all that comes with that energy of a debut album from a relatively new band, an album that manages to be for now, for ten and for the future, this is an album you need to give some time to, to really explore in the way it deserves to be explored. (sw)
Black Country, New Road are saxophonist Lewis Evans, who makes up the band along with May Kershaw (keys), Charlie Wayne (drums), Luke Mark (guitar), Isaac Wood (vocals/guitar), Tyler Hyde (bass) and Georgia Ellery (violin). The early singles hinted at things – “Those two initial singles have been re-recorded here to fit in tonally with the rest of the tracks – all of which were recorded live over a six-day period in March with producer Andy Savours. The resulting album is one that reflects where the band were as a unit after a year of heavy touring. This was a place where deft, free-flowing and intuitive playing melded with tightly coiled eruptive moments. The new version of ‘Sunglasses’ begins with buzzing and crackling guitars unfurling in almost drone-like churns, whilst ‘Athens, France’ employs space thoughtfully, unravelling as a looser groove. “We wanted it to sound exactly how we love to sound live,” says Evans
The tweaks to the previously recorded tracks of course further enhances the connection to more recent live performances but it was also a way to sprinkle in a sense of the band’s ceaseless forward momentum. “We wanted to change some stuff musically just to get it into a shape that was more relevant to how we were playing it live now,” says Wood. “To have continuity of sound.”
Lyrics have been fine-tuned too, along with a subtler leaning towards singing from Wood, shifting from the spoken word approach of earlier material. “Speaking lyrics made sense at the time and was what I was comfortable with while learning to be a frontman,” he says. “Some things lend themselves to being spoken but there’s space for things to be sung – which feels more natural and less intense. It doesn’t always make sense for me to have this very aggressive spoken word over things – there’s room to perform in harmony with the band.”
The result captures the band’s early musical propensities, whilst also making room for their progressions and nuances. “We’ve since learnt our best asset,” says Evans. “We can play quietly. We’ve taken that and used it so it’s more dynamic. Intensity worked for us with those early recordings, like ‘oh my god this band is so intense and angsty’, but this record is a much more considered approach.”
Originally hailing from Cambridge and surrounding areas, and having played together in various guises over the years, as Black Country, New Road, they soon found they had a deep rooted sense of harmony and unity as their core foundation. Some members go as far back as being classmates at school, some would go on to live together, whilst others also went to University together. This has created a cohesive spirit and profound bond in the band that is reflected in their instinctive collective creativity. Yet despite being such a forceful unit they are also avid explorers individually. Many members play in other genre-spanning bands, have solo projects and collaborate with other artists. On top of this, the band’s background of melding classically trained players with self-taught ones also results in a unique concoction, combining precise technical skill with a raw, and often unpredictable, primal essence.
This finds the band intrinsically connected to those very early intense days whilst also heavily expanding on them. “The music was honest for the time,” says Wood. “But it’s just not necessarily honest anymore for it to be this overwhelmingly tense thing. There’s still intensity throughout the record but it’s just a very different type of intensity.”
Black Country, New Road – For the first time is out on February 5th on Ninja Tune