Black Country, New Road drives down unfamiliar paths on debut record


Paul Hudson | Wikimedia Commons

Miguel Modesto

From the opening seconds of For the First Time, listeners are catapulted into the imaginative and chaotic atmosphere that is created by British band Black Country, New Road.

The anticipation building for the band’s first release was fueled by their debut singles “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses,” which were met by praise from critics and fans alike. Both tracks appear on the album, although they are slightly mixed differently.

Black Country, New Road is hard to categorize by genre due to their experimentation with post-punk, jazz and spoken word. The resulting debut album is a fascinating listen that captures a melancholic feeling appropriate for the times we are living in.

The first track off the album, “Instrumental,” is exactly what it says it is; a song made up of purely instruments. It has a hypnotic riff that keeps looping as instruments keep piling up, leading to a wall of sound that feels like it is the soundtrack for a spy film. The way the track builds by adding new melodies and instruments while being repetitive is very similar to the Talking Heads.

Aside from the instrumentation, the album is notable for its vocals and lyrics by lead singer Isaac Wood. His lyrics are narrative driven and are very expressive with a distinct delivery that can be described as a cross between singing and spoken word. In a way, it is similar to John Cale on a Velvet Underground song or Kim Gordon on a Sonic Youth track.

On a track like “Sunglasses,” Wood’s egotistical sounding lyrics complement the loud and abrasive track it accompanies. As the track grows louder and louder, Wood becomes more disorientated with his delivery which only adds to the identity of the track and the band. It works so well.

The band was able to accomplish a cohesive flow with each track leading into the next. On “Track X,” the soft indie guitar sound and harmonies provide such a great contrast to the first half of the album. It leads into the final track of the album, “Opus,” which solidifies the band’s musical exploration.

The horns on the track make it sound so sad and depressing that it could be mistaken for a Radiohead track off of Amnesiac. The transitions in the song are so captivating because it demonstrates how the band is able to merge a variety of sounds and genres seamlessly. The different styles and sections of the song perfectly capture the title of the song.

The album definitely has a niche audience due to how specific the band’s artistic vision for their sound is. That is not necessarily a bad thing but most individuals listening to this would have a difficult time figuring out whether they have heard a band like this before.

Depending on how one looks at it, this may actually be a good thing. The album definitely has a lot that can be dissected and deserves multiple listens before it can be appreciated. An example of this can be seen on a track like “Sunglasses,” which contains some of the most memorable lines off the entire record. Lines like “I am more than adequate, leave Kanye out of this” and “I am invincible in these sunglasses, I am the Fonz, I am the Jack of Hearts” are very humorous. In a way, the lyrics created by Wood and the band sound like random thoughts which goes well with the style of music.

The more narrative driven songs like “Athens, France” and “Science Fair” paint a picture in the listener’s mind of the characters being discussed in each respective song. Wood’s vibrato and vocal delivery is like a mix between an over-the-top David Byrne performance and the poetic delivery of someone like Bob Dylan. Even when there isn’t any singing going on, the band succeeds at being cinematic.

The slight changes that are found in the previously released songs “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses” ever so slightly change their feel from their original releases. They definitely benefit from these changes as they sound a lot more tight and complete.

Black Country, New Road have one of the most unique sounding albums of the year and one of the most experimental debut albums released by a band. Their artistic exploration allows for expressive sounds that make their identity as a group stand on its own.

The myriad of influences found throughout the tracks from different artists demonstrates how the group is able to succeed at sounding weird. From what it seems, they have the opportunity of compiling a diverse discography.