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Black Country, New Road’s Perilous Triumph

Electric guitars, bristling or smoldering, largely defined the band’s 2021 debut album, “For the First Time”; harking back to the post-punk of Slint and the Fall, Wood talk-sang through many of the songs. On “Ants From Up There,” he usually turns to melody instead, while the band toys with chamber-pop and more pastoral sounds. It dials back the guitar distortion and drumbeats and brings acoustic instruments into the foreground; it invokes folk-rock, parlor songs and waltzes. The new songs are still plaints and puzzles, just quieter ones (at least most of the time).

“Chaos Space Marine” opens with something like a traditional fiddle tune, pausing for flourishes by individual players: trills, plinks, hoots, quick runs. Wood sings, dramatically but obliquely, about war, sailing, “becoming a worm” and coming home. The band could be a pit orchestra for a surreal operetta, dropping into a stately half time for a finale that concludes with Wood declaiming, “Billie Eilish style/Concorde will fly/Ignore the hole I’ve dug again.”

Those verbal nuggets recur, equally enigmatically, in other songs on the album. An abject love song, “Haldern,” begins with “Ignore the hole I’ve dug again” and goes on, through rippling Minimalist patterns, a wrenching crescendo and a final, brittle thinning out, to praise “the only one I’ve known/Who broke the world so quietly.” There’s a waltz called “Concorde” that addresses someone named Concorde as a lifelong companion, lover or apparition. And the album’s closer, “Basketball Shoes,” open with Wood singing, “Concorde flies in my room/Tears the house to shreds.”

Stretching past 12 minutes, “Basketball Shoes” moves through elegy, march, a quasi-jig, near-stillness, giant tolling unisons and a finale that’s equal parts triumph and despair; it also tucks in the musical motif that started the album in “Intro.” Throughout “Ants From Up Here,” and through the course of every song, Black Country, New Road tests and reinvents itself, creating music that sounds both intricately plotted and precarious. Just how precarious wasn’t clear until Wood left the band.

Black Country, New Road
“Ants From Up There”
(Ninja Tune)

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