Never has an album grown on me in such little time.
Words by Dexter Clark
Black Country, New Road’s debut album was released with much anticipation. The band formed in 2018, and are known for their lively performances at the Brixton’s Windmill and their unique style. This album continues that trend of energetic music that strips you away from your surroundings, and makes you feel as though you and the band are all that exists.
When I sat down at midnight to listen to the album as soon as it was released, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. When I hit play, the album quickly swooped in to ‘Instrumental’, I couldn’t help but bop my head to the ringtone sounding riff. However, when I got to ‘Athens, France’, I began to feel disappointed. In my first listen, the album fell slightly flat for me.
I was a huge fan of the two singles released previously by the band – those being ‘Athens, France’ and ‘Sunglasses’ – which the band decided to re-record for the album. I felt that the first few times listening to them their contrast to the originals was jarring, mainly because of the lyrical changes. At first I didn’t like these changes. I’d learned to love the originals so much, and these just fell like a clash with the previous versions.
I now love the album. The album grew on me tremendously in the first week of listening, and is certainly my favourite release of the year.
The first track of the album that I previously mentioned is ‘Instrumental’. This is Black Country, New Road’s first instrumental song, and although a lot of love was found in their singles with the power of their lyrics, ‘Instrumental’ packs a punch. The song starts with the drums and the bass, utilizing their rhythm section to really grab you from the get go. The saxophone really stands out in this song, being my favourite part. Lewis Evans, the saxophonist, has worked with Jewish Folk musicians; you can clearly hear the influence of Klezmer in this song. The band makes the opening frantic, captivating you and pulling you in; a perfect start to the album.
The next track, ‘Athens, France’, is a definite improvement from the single and goes much better with the album – even if at first I didn’t think so. The lyrical changes are the most jarring of the album and tell the story of Isaac Woods, the frontman, writing the single version of ‘Athens, France’ which makes for a distinctive story. The bit that sticks out is the whole new outro – it’s beautiful and is my favourite part of the album. It starts off with a twinkly guitar riff and builds upon it in the last minute of the song, adding the rest of the instruments later on, working to create a gentle but moving sound. Although they removed the drumrolls from this version, which worked great in the original, this outro still removes me from my surroundings, and feels like a warm cup of hot chocolate on a snow day.
‘Science Fair’ starts off with seemingly random guitar notes and I love it. It’s absolutely chaotic, and the rest of the song continues this feeling of chaos. ‘Science Fair’ is an eccentric song, and over its six minutes of runtime it builds up until the final minute, where the music begins to twist and turn to create this heavy sounding fusion of Jazz and Post-Punk Rock. ‘Science Fair’ hypes me up every time I listen to it; a tune this exciting sits perfectly in the middle of the album’s track list.
The first half of ‘Sunglasses’ is perfect. The minute long intro with heavily distorted guitar creates the gloomy atmosphere for the rest of the song. The intro makes you anticipate the main body of the song, the long build up beforehand gives it the aurora of one of their live gigs. Just before the breakdown of the song, around the three minute and a half mark, is another impeccable part of the album. The old lyrics and new singing style work so well together to create such a vivid image and makes the breakdown all that more jolting. The new lyrics in the second section of the song “and burn what’s left of all the cards you kept” works great and I feel as though it is a more mature commentary by the band, while being just as impactful as the original lyrics. The new singing style doesn’t work as well in the second half, the shouting from the original felt more raw. However, it keeps the same feelings of frustration and nihilism which is what this band works best with. It is the longest song on the album, yet it feels over within a heartbeat.
‘Track X’ is a lot more simpler sounding and a little more stripped back than the other songs on the album, this song just feels cosy. The simple guitar riff accompanied by the poetic vocals is so simple but works so well. It is a love song, which really contrasts with the rest of the album. The backing vocals on the chorus feel heavenly, and it makes a good change to mix up the vocals a little.
Lastly is ‘Opus’, which is the what the entire album has building towards, is the best song on the album. The song starts with a slow guitar riff, then coming together with the saxophone, building itself up within the first minute and half, turning into a tune you cannot help but dance too. This is another song that has the atmosphere of a live show, and I can almost see the band on a stage with cups of beer flying everywhere. It’s a perfect end to a much anticipated album, and sets the stage for what the band plan to do next.