A Roadside View on “Ants From Up There”
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Lead singer and guitarist of experimental rock band Black Country, New Road (BCNR) Isaac Wood announced his departure from the band on January 31, 2022, citing frequent mental health struggles. His departure resulted in the cancellation of the band’s first tour in the U.S., as well as the announcement that they would not play any music from their first two albums live out of respect for Wood. The news came as a surprise to fans, who had been anticipating the release of BCNR’s latest album, “Ants From Up There,” which came out only four days after Wood’s departure. Wood’s vocals were a vital part of BCNR’s discography, as his shaky, passionate delivery gave the band their unique identity. His performances on “Ants From Up There” retain his signature vocal and musical style, while maturing it from the exploratory nature of the band’s debut, “For the First Time” (2021). “Ants From Up There” is Wood’s swan song, and its sheer quality illustrates the permanent mark Wood will leave upon BCNR, even as they continue to make music after his departure.
Wood and the first five members of BCNR first met under the band Nervous Conditions, and would go on to form Black Country, New Road after the band broke up due to one of the members being accused of sexual assault. The band gained its seventh member, Luke Mark, in 2019, and released two singles: “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses.” The band would release their debut album, “For the First Time,” on February 5, 2021, to extreme critical acclaim. Later that year, the band would announce their second album, “Ants From Up There,” and release four singles from it up until its release on February 4, 2022, almost a year after the release of their debut.
“Ants From Up There” illustrates the musical and lyrical evolution Black Country, New Road underwent in the year since the release of their first album. In their own words, the band “wanted to make a more accessible record,” and this shows as the songs on “Ants From Up There” lean a bit more toward conventional musical tenets as opposed to the more experimental nature of “For the First Time” (2021). However, the band doesn’t fully shy away from its experimental rock roots, attempting to break the mold with long, unorthodox ballads such as “Basketball Shoes” and “Bread Song,” which exude the irregular song structure and long, abruptly shifting instrumentals present in “For the First Time”. The album is also more vulnerable and raw in its lyrical composition, shown in songs such as “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” and “Haldern,” which explore the complex emotions surrounding human connection and social interaction. According to BCNR, the emotional core of the album arose from lockdown isolation, dignifying its high quality with the more sincere and meaningful nature of the songs helping to make listeners resonate with the album more.
In spite of these changes from their first album, “Ants From Up There” demonstrates a similar caliber of vocal and instrumental quality as its predecessor. The shaking, powerful vocal delivery adds an enchanting rawness and emotional depth to the record. The unconventionally arranged instrumentals transcend it to a higher plane of exceptionality, rife with creativity and extraordinary production quality. The instrumental range is far and wide on “Ants From Up There,” with rock chamber music and jazz mixed in its instrumentation as each song utilizes a variety of instruments from booming saxophones to delicate violin to skimpering piano. The zany time signatures and blended musical nature of the album give the instrumentals a certain flare that is uniquely outstanding and enjoyable.
The combination of Wood’s fiery vocals and BCNR’s animated instrumentals shows its quality in highlights such as “Chaos Space Marine” and “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade.” The former is an upbeat and energetic romp dominated by the loud clamor of trumpets and piano as the vocals dance between the flitting chords to create an elating sonic joyride. On the other hand, “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” is a bittersweet and intense seven minute long ballad, blaring with brass, strings, percussion, and piano, and aided by angsty vocals. Both tracks demonstrate an essential element of many of BCNR’s compositions and song structure, with them being instrumentally arranged like a written story rather than a conventional song. Each composition starts off instrumentally sparse until reaching a loud, dense, cathartic climax, and then setting the listener back down with a meager motif, which is a classic structure for building drama. Both songs represent the best of BCNR in terms of its musical capability, which again demonstrates the immense, transcendent quality of “Ants From Up There.”
With the release of their sophomore album, the remaining six members of BCNR announced that they had already started creating new music after Isaac Wood’s departure, with bassist Tyler Hyde as the new lead vocalist. The synergy Wood showed with his bandmates between his vocals and their instrumentals made his departure from the band far more bittersweet in context. However, the rest of the band’s composition and performance skills should not be understated, as the instrumentals stand masterfully on their own. Despite the trials and tribulations that the band may face in the future without Wood as a lead vocalist, the level of merit and flair on display in “Ants From Up There” shows that there is hope for BCNR as they embark on this new road with Hyde as their lead vocalist.