English group Black Country, New Road compose a collective and jarring ode to science fair tension and the subtleties of wearing sunglasses on their debut album ‘For the first time.’
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Comprised of seven individuals, Black Country, New Road is an English band that combines veritable elements of indie rock, post-punk, and art-rock for a sound that is both frantic and resilient. On their debut album, For the first time, the group traverses six tracks that veer between these two poles in such a way that demonstrates their talent for songwriting and knack for crafting distress.
Stream: ‘For the first time’ – Black Country, New Road
Without stating the obvious obviously, “Instrumental” is a fairly descriptive introduction of what the listener can expect moving forward through this album. This track simultaneously has a bounce and energy that fluctuates between being in a locked-in groove and a coming-off-the-rails freneticism. It feels campy to call the song hypnotizing, but the way the rhythm section maintains the pulse while the strings, saxophone, and guitars create a discordant vibe, maybe it isn’t such a non-hypnotic affair after all.
A slightly more comprehensive introduction to the full band. What the band establishes from its introduction, that is, a penchant for manic energy, angular rhythms, and a flair for the dramatic, “Athens, France” doubles down on with its vocal performances and composition. The composition is dynamic, shifting from a jagged guitar intro, to a spacey interlude, to a lush, and excellently melodic, and fairly sax-based outro. The vocals, when there are vocals, teeter between hysterics and melodramatic poignancy. While this is something of the vocalist’s signature move across the album, it never really loses momentum or the jarring effect it has when they recite things like “Now all that I became must die before he forum thread/ The cursed vultures feed and spread the seeded daily bread.”
For all of the unnerving energy the band piles into this song, the first portion specifically, the band does a great job of maintaining a sort of unvarying and looming atmosphere without boiling over, so to say. The rhythm section, again and always, finds a way to settle in while giving room to the guitars and additional instruments to add layers of noise, chaos, and texture. The strings and saxophone play an especially eerie role with their repetitive and recurring motif that always ends on a dissonant interval from the rest of the group. Thematically, the song starts with what sounds like a freak and ironic accident taking place, unsurprisingly, at a science fair before resolving into a tale of obscurity and, from the vocalist Isaac Wood’s perspective, romantic tragedy. The conclusion is appropriately dramatic and satisfyingly heavy.
I swear to God you looked right at me
And let a silk red ribbon fall between your hands
But as I slowly sobered
I felt the rubbing of shoulders
I smelled the sweat and the children crying
I was just one among crowded stands
Watch: “Science Fair” – Black Country, New Road
In a no less dramatic turn of events, “Sunglasses” manages to change from a woeful effort to something cool and tight at just about the drop of a dime; a very flexible 180 of dynamics. The song opens with a fuzzy and droning guitar lead which eventually morphs into something that would sound at home compared to the likes of post-hardcore and noise rock acts of the mid-90’s; that is until the halfway point when Wood begins to bemoan the NutriBullet, British engineering, and his own ignorance. By this point, the band starts spiraling into disarray before taking shape again with a tight and minimal edge lead at first by guitar, bass, and drums only to be outdone by repetitive sax honks. This moment is nothing short of a well-earned groove payoff. From here on out, the band keeps the atmosphere tense and energetic. As the longest song on the album, “Sunglasses” takes on a couple of distinctive phases that, as a whole, make for a fulfilling listening experience while arguably offering the peak of Wood’s verbose lyricisms. A definite highlight.
I am invincible in these sunglasses
I am the Fonz, I am the Jack of Hearts
I am looking at you and you cannot tell
I am more than the sum of my parts
If this track does anything, it does two things: Confirm to the listener that the band is capable of toning down while also making more than effective use of the band’s additional instrumentation. Unlike the prior tracks, “Track X” maintains a much calmer energy from start to finish. While there are moments of dissonance in the composition from the sax and the strings, they, for the most part, create an airy, even fluttering vibe. The song even features harmonized ooh’s and synths that sound like they could be featured in, to keep things vague, a myriad of indie-pop tunes. “Track X” is a breather from the chaos.
Watch: “Track X” – Black Country, New Road
Frantic, heavy, dramatic, and bleak. “Opus,” the closing track, relies on dreary horn and sax lines, sudden energy changes throughout the song multiple times, and Wood’s signature weariness. Though it is the closer and a general amalgam of what the band has offered up until this point, it feels more like a logical conclusion and rather than an unnecessary recapitulation. It feels like the band is aware of the room it has to develop but is keen on showing off what they do well.
For the first time
Black Country, New Road’s For the first time is a strong and chaotic debut from a band that lacks distinct parameters. Though they seem to run on, if not almost rely on, frantic and unsettled energy, the compositions are executed smartly and when they do appear, make compelling use of harmony, atmosphere, and texture (praise be to strings and horns). For the first time makes for a very solid debut from a band that strives on unease.
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For the first time
an album by Black Country, New Road