Since taking off in 2019 with a pair of intriguing singles, Black Country, New Road entered around the turn of the decade as one of the most promising outfits in rock music. The English post–rock group debuted with the intense and experimental For The First Time in 2021, which pleased fans and critics alike. Despite an unexpected change that will drastically alter the band’s future, lead singer Isaac Wood and company have continued the band’s trajectory beautifully with Ants From Up There, a soaring album of thunderous solace.
Instrumentally, the seven–piece group scales back the ferocity of For the First Time, instead opting for velvety horn sections and lighter performances on the rock instruments. Black Country, New Road makes their new direction clear with a momentous, horn–led intro that could be the soundtrack to looking outside a plane window as it speeds up and lifts into the sky. Their softer approach gives the album a more mature and mellow atmosphere, while allowing for some enveloping crescendos, especially on standout moments like “Concorde” and “Haldern.” But this newfound maturity doesn’t mean a loss of versatility. Here, Black Country, New Road trades the punkier and heavily Slint–inspired sounds of songs like “Science Fair” for baroque elements in “Bread Song” and “Good Will Hunting” that echo acts such as Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens, all the while maintaining their unique angular style.
Despite the outstanding performances from the group, the highlight of the project is Wood and his desolate lyrics. Wood sings with a tone that is simultaneously nervous, authoritative, and endearing as he relishes in the devastating details of a lost love for track after track. After the intro, “Chaos Space Marine” starts the album’s writing off with surreal and grandiose imagery of the titular war–torn character who has power over England yet “must leave it all behind.” He yearns for a love interest as he heads to New York and asks her to take his cold, metal hand.
The story continues into the song “Concorde,” which reveals the album’s main motif of the titular plane, a retired supersonic airliner. Wood recalls breathlessly running up mountains just to share the sky with his romance for a mere moment as, just like a plane, they speed over his head and away again: “And then Isaac will suffer / Concorde will fly.” Wood recounts the love affair's demise in the album’s most vulnerable moment, the simply titled “Bread Song.” He croons about a crumbling relationship as the landscape around him swells with arpeggiated guitars and strings. The chorus uses bread crumbs as a metaphor for vulnerability: “Oh, don’t eat your toast in my bed / Oh darling, I / I never felt the crumbs until you said / This place is not for any man / Nor particles of bread.”
After the desolate feel of the songs before it, “Good Will Hunting” is a much–needed break from the heavy emotions and is also the catchiest song on the album. Bright synths and a driving melody work with the morose lyrics and Wood’s intense performance to create a freeing moment in the midst of the tracklist. The peppy moment is followed by the breathtaking “Haldern,” which is a highlight on Ants From Up There. As Wood draws out words about a cosmic love torn away from him, the backing instruments spiral around his story and lift it up in a rapturous and stirring fashion.
After the serene interlude “Mark’s Theme,” the album ends off with a trio of lengthy compositions. “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” is a swinging and uplifting track that builds and coalesces into a blossom of group vocals, violin, flute, and saxophone. “Snow Globes” is a nine–minute slow burn, climaxing with a cacophonous drum solo and Wood desperately refraining over and over—“God of weather, Henry knows / Snow globes don’t shake on their own”—as if it’s a forlorn and distant plea for his lover to return. The final track is the multi–faceted “Basketball Shoes,” a coveted song from early live performances that has finally revealed its studio form. The track shows the themes and motifs of the album all crashing together into a twelve–minute, three–part finale that ends with an anguished cry not only to his Concorde but maybe to his fans as well. “Oh, your generous loan to me,” he howls in his final lyrics. “Your crippling interest.”
Those lyrics stand as his swan song, as Wood announced his departure from Black Country, New Road just days before the release of Ants From Up There. He and the group mutually decided to part ways in order for Wood to preserve his mental health. Wood’s final moments with the group are a beautiful reflection on his struggles with codependency, whether that be in a relationship or with his newfound fame.
Ants From Up There is a long–awaited moment of catharsis that swells and contracts at every turn, lulling listeners into a world of relief and desolation all at once. Black Country, New Road turns every word and sound into a ravishing and heartbreaking experience, like seeing your favorite jet up in the sky—if only for a fleeting moment. While Wood’s absence will absolutely be felt, the group’s latest effort will send shockwaves as it flies over the musical landscape, and we should all be running up mountains to watch.