It’s not often us old farts at TPA find our increasingly blurred-at-the-edges Venn circle intersecting with the up-and-coming hip about town sounds, but here is a rare occasion. The enigmatically named Black Country, New Road are being raved about in all the right places, even to the point of getting three page spreads in national music magazines before their first album was released earlier this month. They hail from a London scene that also boasts Fat White Family and 2019’s achingly hip Black Midi, so it is my rare pleasure to have my gnarled digits on the happening pulse, man. (Ed – people haven’t used “man” since 1976…)
Formed from the ashes of Cambridge band Nervous Condition, who split in quite nasty circumstances, Black Country, New Road formed in 2018. The band name, apparently innocently plucked from a Wikipedia search that yielded “Black Country New Road (or Black Country Spine Road) is a major road that runs through the West Midlands, England” turned out to be rather prescient given the direction of UK PLC under these grimly slow moving storm clouds of the Plague Years, not to mention the growing inevitable dark consequences of Brexshit. Good job they didn’t plump for “Black Country, Spine Road”, eh?
Having previously released two thrilling singles in 2019, the melancholic and slightly queasy stop-start trip of Athens France, and the edgy and angsty anthem Sunglasses, the signs for the first album, announced in autumn 2020, were good, as was the prospect of the seven-piece band recreating these sounds live. We all know what happened next, which is probably the reason for the delay in issuing the album until now.
Starting with the drily self-explanatory Instrumental, which is possibly the most “up” thing on the record, partly because of its hurtling klezmer-jazz-rock shenanigans, and partly because there are none of Isaac Woods’ lyrics, which express a burgeoning insecurity combined with a twitchy paranoia, delivered with varying levels of intensity, from a murmur to a scream. This band are young, very young, and a lot of the millennial references in the lyrics are lost on this old buzzard, but given the state of the world and our uncertain future within it, I suppose these lyrics, nails bitten to the quick, are hardly surprising. As Isaac builds a repeated refrain to a desperate scream on Sunglasses, “I’m more than adequate. Leave my daddy’s job out of it. Leave the Sertraline in the cabinet” is typical of the thought processes of the furrowed-browed singer, guitarist, and lyricist. It is traditional for oldies to envy the young, but right here, right now, I’m not so sure.
The band are often compared to “hip to quote” Slint, in fact they even slip in a bit of dry humour, referring to themselves as the “the world’s second best Slint tribute band”, on the neurotic but wryly amusing Science Fair. I wouldn’t know as I know virtually nothing about the ’90s equivalent to the Velvet Underground – no-one knew them then, but they’re everywhere now. Writing this, I was prompted to give Slint’s Spiderland a spin, and I can see the markers, and the fact that Black Country, New Road acknowledge this influence is no problem, but they have expanded on that territory, with their own updated and Anglicised spin on the American band’s bleak neuroses. What I did hear without research is an atmosphere of ever-rising tension provided by the two guitars, bass, and drums section of the septet, in a manner not dissimilar to early Wire, with an added appetite for experimentalism, set off against the saxophone/violin/keyboards section who provide some aural contrast and relief, especially on the album opener Instrumental, and its closer, Opus, where the klezmer influence makes a welcome return.
The energy in this record makes me want to see this band live, a lot. Heck, I’d watch anything live right now to be honest. I’d even consider country & western, but Black Country, New Road is a name to watch, for sure.
01. Instrumental (5:27)
02. Athens, France (6:22)
03. Science Fair (6:20)
04. Sunglasses (9:50)
05. Track X (4:44)
06. Opus (8:01)
Total Time – 40:44
Isaac Wood – Vocals, Guitar
Tyler Hyde – Bass Guitar
Lewis Evans – Saxophone
Georgia Ellery – Violin
May Kershaw – Keyboards
Charlie Wayne – Drums
Luke Mark – Guitar
Record Label: Ninja Tune
Country of Origin: U.K.
Year Of Release: 5th February 2021
Black Country, New Road – Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube