Friday, February 12, 2021

More Than Adequate - A Strong Debut From One of Britain's Most Exciting Bands

In the summer of 2019, a band called Black Country, New Road caused fervent discussions through word of mouth and music forums alike. They had just released their second single ‘Sunglasses’, a sprawling and chaotic song, which saw them marry together a post-rock (and distinctly klezmer) sound with witty, anxious, and socially relevant lyricism.

They were quickly hailed as the best band in Britain by many publications (and in the world by one), and were whipped up in a whirlwind of hype that saw them appearing in festivals and selling out tour dates with only two singles to their name.

Not many bands have the start BC, NR do, and those in a similar position of being lucky, or perhaps unlucky, enough to be bestowed with such overwhelming praise right out the gate often succumb to the pressure of having to live up to the expectations of hungry listeners.

It’s like trying to play a character in a story already written for you - many avid fans picked apart the confessional and biting lyrics of Isaac Wood, and circulated pixelated phone recordings of untitled songs that were played at gigs. Along with the actual musical qualities of the band, came a whole mythos and narrative, one that sought to turn them into cult heroes of a bold new indie music scene in Britain. It’s some small miracle that ‘For the first time’ has arrived at all.

It did, however, and it’s a succinct and realistic debut for the band. Unladen by hordes of filler songs, and playing off the strengths the band have had from the very start. To some it may initially appear underwhelming. After all, 4 of it’s 6 songs have already appeared as singles. However, the album is very much made to feel like an experience, each song has a particular identity, and there is a certain kind of rewarding patience that comes with the band that translates beautifully to the form of an album. The release felt on the closing track ‘Opus’ is cathartic precisely because it feels like the entire album has been building up to it.

Wood details his floating memories of one awkward encounter to another, in a style more akin to spoken word than singing. ‘Social commentary’ is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot with such idiosyncratic lyrics, but Wood has a great way of describing a disenfranchised and lustless society that he is directly a part of. The intensity of the lyrics and vocal delivery is exciting, but also exhausting at times. ‘Track X’ is a reprieve from this momentum, being the most tender of all the songs, and gives more of an idea of the wider diversity of sounds the musicians are keen to experiment with. ‘Science Fair’ works perfectly as the apex of the album - an absurd story of a failed love at Cambridge Science Fair against an explosive backdrop of discordant strings and a squawking saxophone. Key tracks like ‘Athens, France’, and the aforementioned ‘Sunglasses’ are focal points in the bands discography, and have caused a stir in the way the tracks have been rerecorded for the album. Reworkings of certain passages and alterations to the delivery of lines are not at all uncommon between singles and album releases, but many have held the original versions of these songs in their hearts and minds since they first heard them. However, the new lyrics are self-referential, and show the band evolving beyond the statements, musically and otherwise, they previously made.

It’s far better to listen to an album with a handful of great songs, as opposed to a dozen mediocre songs, and BC, NR have definitely embraced that. Carefully translating the identity and music they have slowly revealed over the years to a confident yet intriguing debut is no easy feat, but they have successfully delivered on the promise that has formed in the collective mind of the masses who have adored them from the start. The 6 song tracklist might be disappointing to some, but quality over quantity prevails here, and the passion and creativity is delivered in droves. This is about as solid a debut as anyone could have hoped for, and will hopefully place the band in a much better position to release an even more powerful follow up.

-Huwen Edwards


Image: Pitchfork

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