Album review: ‘For the First Time – Black Country, New Road’

Columnist reviews Black Country New Road’s debut album; tracks vary from melancholic and atmospheric to chaotic and dissonant

Photo from https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/black-country-new-road-for-the-first-time/

Photo from https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/black-country-new-road-for-the-first-time/

COLE QUINN, Evergreen photo editor

During the first half of 2019, a group of seven young adults from England formed a band after the breakup of their previous band in 2018. The band released two singles in 2019, both showcasing their potential to craft solid tracks.

The two singles, “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses,” were enough to obtain notoriety from the British press who hyped them up into oblivion. Soon, the band found themselves a record deal and immediately got to work on their first album.

Black Country, New Road is an experimental post-rock band based in London. The band’s sound is often hard to pinpoint, with their music containing influences from such genres as post-punk, klezmer, math-rock and jazz.

The band consists of several members; Isaac Wood as the lead vocalist and guitarist, Tyler Hyde on bass, Lewis Evans on saxophone, Georgia Ellery on violin, May Kershaw on keys, Charlie Wayne on drums and Luke Mark on guitar. The band released their debut album, “For the First Time,” on Feb. 5.

The album is a carefully constructed piece of musical genius, infusing multiple sounds into different tracks. The tracks vary from melancholic and atmospheric to chaotic and dissonant. The album is similar to Slint’s “Spiderland” at some points, with its influence evident in more dissonant parts of the album. However, the band expands upon Slint’s sound by adding slightly more instrumentation and melody.

A proper example of this is in the second half of the song “Sunglasses.” The beginning of the second half of the song sounds almost exactly like Slint. However, this changes after the introduction of Evans’ saxophone. The chaotic wailing of the saxophone adds another layer of confusion and anxiety, which enhances Wood’s lyrics regarding a man who transforms into a snob after living with his rich girlfriend’s parents.

 “And in a wall of photographs

 In the downstairs second living room’s TV area

 I become her father and complain of mediocre theatre in the daytime

 And ice in single malt whiskey at night”

 Wood’s lyrics throughout the album are incredibly poetic, introspective and often vague. Almost every track contains lines ripe with tongue-in-cheek self-awareness and cynicism. Combining this with Wood’s English accent adds a vague nihilistic undertone to the lyrics. My favorite line of Wood’s is his short quip regarding the band’s similarity to Slint on “Science Fair.

 “Just to think I could’ve left the fair with my dignity intact

 And fled from the stage with the world’s second-best Slint tribute act”

 The standout track on the album is “Track X,which is the most emotional and melancholic track on the album. Wood’s lyrics cover the struggle of a man’s mental well-being after rejection from a lover.

 I left my drink on the 18th floor

 Thought about jumping in your face when you saw

 I thought of my father and proving him wrong

 But mostly Molly and Dylan and my mum”

What makes this song more magical is the absence of dissonance and its overall atmosphere. The melodic guitar lick Wood plays throughout the song sweeps the listener into a mysterious yet nostalgic trance while Hyde’s humming during the chorus sounds angelic.

Evans and Kershaw also play a role in elevating the song, with the soft saxophone and the bubblegum sounding synth adding atmosphere to an already dense track.

Black Country, New Road pretty much nailed it in terms of releasing an acclaimed debut album. The band’s compositions are unlike any other sound masquerading in the modern world of music, and the band deserves all of the praise they can garner up. The band still has so much ahead of them, and it will be interesting to see which direction they head in for their next project.

 Score: 8.9/10