Black Country, New Road
For the First Time
LP | CD | DL
On their hotly-anticipated debut, Black Country, New Road manage to live up to the hype – even if the album is lacking in surprises. Ellott Simpson reviews.
Black Country, New Road have been the band to watch for a while now. Emerging from the same primordial post-punk soup as acts like Black Midi and Squid, they’ve quickly built up a reputation for themselves through a handful of beautifully strange singles and their electric live shows.
Given that the band spent 2020 relatively quiet – releasing no new music until the year’s tail-end – expectations for their debut album For the First Time have been high. And, thankfully, it’s an album that mostly delivers. Though there definitely is the sense that the hype surrounding it, and Black Country, New Road as a whole, has acted as a bit of a double-edged sword.
So, the problems first: For the First Time is only a mere six songs long, four of which have previously been released as singles. And, of the two remaining songs, one of them is more of an intro track rather than a full-blown song in itself. Given the long wait for the album it’s a little bit disappointing and gives off the sense that For the First Time is just a collection of band’s early songs – in the same way that a lot of first albums do.
Despite the shortage of new material though, there’s no denying that what’s here is still very good. Across these six tracks, Black Country, New Road carve out a fantastically weird niche for themselves, with their characteristic blend of spoken-word vocals and leering, violent instrumentals.
Sunglasses remains an absolute stand-out – a multi-phase track that grows tenser as it barrels along. Like the band’s best songs, it’s not fully clear what it’s about – there’s only a loose sense of a narrative – but it does a fantastic job of capturing a mood. It’s hard to think of more a strangely compelling refrain from the past few years than “I’m more than adequate / Leave Kanye out of this.”
While Isaac Woods’ lyrics often seem to steal the show, Black Country, New Road are at their best when his vocals are working in unison with the other band members. Charlie Wayne’s ominous drumming acts as the backbone for Science Fair’s off-kilter narrative, while the way Lewis Evans’ saxophone almost seems to be laughing on Sunglasses contributes a lot to the song’s character.
As a result, For the First Time falters when it doesn’t feel like the two sides of the band are getting equal billing. Track X, with its ambientesque instrumental, puts too much emphasis on the Woods’ lyrics, which don’t work as well in an isolated context. When placed under the microscope, it can feel like he’s just dropping names and references – Danish crime dramas, Neutribullets, Black Midi – for the sake of it. Similarly, the opening track Instrumental feels a bit too much like directionless build-up without any vocals to guide it.
Despite these hiccups, For the First Time is a solid first outing for the band. Though it sticks a little too close to the sound the band have become known for – the almost Balkan-inspired closer Opus excluded – it succeeds in capturing what makes them so exciting.
You can find Black Country, New Road online here.