Album of The Week Review: Ants From Up There

On their sophomore LP Ants From Up There, British indie-art-chamber-pop-post-rock (yes, really) outfit Black Country, New Road reaches new heights. The band’s seven-person lineup consists of the standard guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums, but also includes a violinist (Georgia Ellery) and saxophonist (Lewis Evans). These less traditional instruments weave gorgeous countermelodies through more traditional rock song structures, allowing the band’s distinct sonic palette to permeate every corner of the record.

Following the widespread acclaim of their 2021 album For the First Time, which blended anxiety-ridden post-punk with tinges of jazz and klezmer rock, Ants From Up There takes their sound in a softer and more organic direction. Where For the First Time brought discordant chaos, their second LP opts for harmonious beauty.

That’s not to say that this album doesn’t get loud—there are moments so massive that the music seems to teeter on the edge of being crushed under its own weight. This is most apparent on fan-favorite closer “Basketball Shoes”, a multi-act epic that finishes things up with a triumphant chorus that sounds too huge to be contained on an album. It seems to exist outside the bounds of music, as though the band is accessing some indescribable emotion that has always resided within you, just out of reach.

But Black Country, New Road knows when to pull back, allowing those crescendos to hit even harder, such as on the nine-minute “Snow Globes”, which begins with an inconspicuously plucked guitar melody that eventually descends into a crashing free jazz-inspired drum solo. That’s part of what makes AFUT so special: each member gets their moment to shine, proving that it’s entirely possible to for this group to continue despite the absence of lead singer Isaac Wood, who announced his departure mere days before the album was set to be released. This revelation allows his words to cut even deeper—what could’ve originally been interpreted as a straightforward breakup album becomes a heart-wrenching farewell to a truly once-in-a-generation frontman.

On paper, his esoteric lyrics are dense—nearly impenetrable. With some analysis, it becomes clear that he is speaking truth to experiences that most of us can relate to: loss, isolation, longing. But when paired with such exultant instrumentals, there emerges a sense of acceptance and optimism: a hope that recovery is possible. On the stunning “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade”, Isaac cries out: “Good morning / Show me the place where he inserted the blade / You come home and hold me tight / As if it never happened at all”. 

The band’s free-flowing creative process is exemplified on the slowcore-inspired “Haldern”, which was birthed spontaneously during a thirty-minute improv set at a German music festival. Driven by May Kershaw’s impeccable piano work, this track’s lyrics show Isaac at an emotional low point, devastated over the loss of some relationship: “We formed a ring around your home / To stop your body leaving / But you burned the final question then / And you rose out through the ceiling”.

Other highlights include “Mark’s Theme”, an interlude that shines a spotlight on Evans’ saxophone in a subdued instrumental canon, “Chaos Space Marine”, an uncharacteristically upbeat opener that can only be described as chamber pop perfection, and “Bread Song”, a swelling ballad chronicling the virtual pains of a long-distance relationship.

Each song bursts forth with its own sense of personality, coming together to form one of the most cohesive sonic experiences to hit the scene in a long time—and that’s saying something, considering the uncountable number of influences that the band pulls from to create something entirely fresh and unique. The future of Black Country, New Road is an uncertain one. But on Ants From Up There, they prove themselves as a truly singular group, and it seems that they have nowhere to go but up.

-Connor Pflederer

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