“We are really in debt. We need a few hits

If the hype translated into sales, Black Country, New Road would fill the stadiums.

The seven-piece ensemble’s mix of musical styles — blending experimental rock with everything from jazz to Jewish klezmer music — caused such a frenzy when they appeared in 2018 that a website called them the best band of the world on the back of only two singles

Their first album of 2021 For the first time, with its long songs and caustic lyrics about Gen Z boredom, won rave reviews and landed a Mercury nomination. All the while, the band was thinking, “Just wait.”

“That sounded totally arrogant, didn’t it?” bassist Tyler Hyde asks with a smile.

Maybe, but with good reason: For the first time is less than a year old, but the band has already left him behind. Their Stellar Fast Track Ants from above transforms the band’s sound into something akin to their version of Arcade Fire’s community rock, which Tyler says the band became “obsessed” with when they were writing the album during lockdown.

At this point in the band’s musical journey, the goal is to become “accessible” (Photo: Rosie Foster)

On the ants from above, the esoteric meets the universal, with unexpected results at every turn: oscillating between shadow and light, the group stretches from the playful whirlwind of “Chaos Space Marine” to the dark beauty of the ballad “Bread Song”, influenced by avant-garde composer Steve Reich.

The closing track, the stunning multi-part opus “Basketball Shoes,” features evocative post-rock guitar riffs, poignant jazz lines, indie-pop, buzzing guitars and an indie-rock climax. booming; we will have to improve this year.

Hyde (daughter of Underworld frontman Karl Hyde), drummer Charlie Wayne, singer/guitarist Isaac Wood, saxophonist Lewis Evans, Georgia Ellery (violin) and May Kershaw (keyboards) originally formed Nervous Conditions in Cambridge in 2015 .

After the band’s abrupt end, following allegations of sexual misconduct on social media against their then vocalist Connor Browne, they formed Black Country, New Road, sans Browne, with guitarist Luke Mark in 2019 (Browne has since apologized to the two women involved.)

The group is a close-knit group and Hyde says that at this point in their musical journey, the goal is to become “accessible” (which will appeal to those who considered For the first timeimpenetrable experimentalism).

“Plus, we’re really, really in debt with, like, the wrong people,” Wayne says with a smile. I start laughing, until he tells me he’s not kidding. “So we have to pull off some success, otherwise it’s the last time you’ll see that from us. I can’t say more for legal reasons.

Like many in Black Country, the idiosyncratic world of New Road, it’s hard to know whether to take this at face value. The lyrics written by Wood – “a fucking genius!” Hyde says enthusiastically at one point – are full of self-mockery and wry, funny and unreliable tales of relationships and social interactions that go on in his head as much as in real life: in France with our genius girls now” he sings on “Good Will Hunting”.

The group is prone to gestures that oscillate from one extreme to the other: it is just as likely to conduct virtuoso improvisational concerts as it is to cover Abba and the Beatles.

Take their performance at the Mercury Prize ceremony in September, where Wood sang, for reasons that weren’t entirely apparent, wearing a tuba around his head.

“We thought we weren’t going to win, so might as well have fun,” Wayne said.

“That’s often the case with Black Country, New Road,” says Hyde. People always say ‘What the hell is that? What is this reference about? Often it’s literally just that [thing]. It was just a snorkel.

“I’m uncomfortable trying to make the public our best friend. It always seems a little weird,” she adds.

Safer Music

Ants from above doesn’t have the kind of success that will help pay off debts, but he pulls off a clever sleight of hand. It feels more conventional – the songs are bigger, the sound warmer, the narratives more inclusive – partly because of its complexity masked by Wood’s lyrics.

Now more sung than spoken, her words add a new sense of feeling and fragility. There are still self-references and nods to pop culture figures (Billie Eilish gets multiple mentions), but through relatable stories – “Bread Song” details a relationship of disintegration brought to head by finding bread crumbs in bed. Above all, he traded caustic comments for emotional weight (even when, as on the fantastic “Snow Globe”, the atmosphere is disturbing and opaque).

Black Country, New Road performing at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in 2019 (Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns)

“Our first album was super dissonant and super listless,” says Wayne. “And I don’t think any of us have ever felt that at all. If you write from an apathetic point of view, it will always be a little less acceptable than if you write from a state of emotional vulnerability, which is rather optimistic or uplifting, even if there is sadness.

“There’s pure human emotion,” Hyde says, “rather than so many fictional scenarios.”

Nowhere is this more evident than the magnificent instrumental “Mark’s Theme”, dedicated to the uncle of saxophonist Evans, a champion of the band, who died of Covid-19 last year. “Mark has been a big part of our lives as a band,” Hyde says.

“And his death was brutal for us. So the least you can do is pay him this tribute.

Needless to say, the couple are appalled by the ‘partygate’ antics of Boris Johnson and Downing Street staff during lockdown. “It’s so disgusting,” Wayne says, “the humanity of it all. How can he sleep at night? People were dying without the basic decency to see their loved ones, and he’s throwing a fucking party? That’s an unapologetic man.

“It’s so disgusting,” adds Hyde. “You can’t be a leader if you’re a hypocrite.”

Groups critical of the government of the day are not new, but Black Country, New Road are typical of Gen Z artists in speaking eloquently and passionately about social issues: today, Wayne speaks at length about the challenges of climate change .

More Music

“We try to educate ourselves and engage. It would be unforgivable not to at least try to ease the pressure on the planet.

The group represents a sort of anti-Johnson, standing up for collectivism. They are a true democracy, both artistically – “we seven
have an interesting conversation when we create music, which provides endless opportunities,” says Hyde – as well as personally. Ants from above has a nostalgia that runs through him: Wood often sings about friends, memories, photographs, school.

Wayne says the recurring lyrical theme of Concorde and air travel is influenced by their shared childhood memory of visiting the Duxford Air Museum outside Cambridge (the album’s title refers to the view from a plane of the people below).

The album’s imagery goes even further: with artist Simon Monk, the band used their own childhood artwork – everything from gardens and self-portraits to letters to Santa Claus.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Hyde says, “and no matter how old you are, you think back to your childhood. It’s so pure and hopeful
time. A childhood drawing is the most faithful representation of who you were. That’s what we think of this whole album. He has this overwhelming sense of hope and light”

Ants from above releases on Ninja Tune on February 4

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