Album Reviews

Black Country, New Road: For the First Time – “a tone-setter for the rest of 2021”

The London-based collective deliver a knockout blow with their much-anticipated debut.

But first, a preamble.

This was not what I was planning to write at all.

I was all set to pen a piece on how, as the pandemic has escalated, and we’ve endured lockdown after lockdown, there’s less and less reason to go out and find new music, as you can’t go and then see your discoveries live.

In fact, last year my appetite for new tunes had faded so much that my favourite single of 2020 was Snoop Dogg’s Just Eat advert.

But what better to snap one out of the malaise than checking in with a band I first wrote about almost two whole years ago back in 2019 (which of course now feels like a lifetime ago) declaring their debut single Athens, Francestunning” and “like any great new band’s debut, it should be breathed in and then excitedly look forward to what’s next.”

So here we are then.

And it seems everyone has now caught up, as to call From Now On highly anticipated would be underselling it somewhat, the cool beardy hipsters having adopted them as their new favourite band.

BCNR are the first of a cluster of interesting acts to emerge in 2019, to reveal their long playing hand.

Well, I say long player, the record is only six songs in length, two of which have already been out there for a while, two released just ahead of the album, and the other two have titles that are doing a lot of the descriptive heavy lifting in the shape of Instrumental and Opus.

Goat Girl: On All Fours – “the results are equally surprising and brilliant”

There’s not a lot of hand left to show here, but what it does do is somehow curate the loose strands that have gone before into a coherent piece of work.

It feels like they are using this record as a full stop to document the songs before rushing ahead to new adventures, even amending their lyrics the early songs, to have them just right.

As a fan of the short sharp pop song, usually the length of these tracks, most in excess of six minutes, would usually bring on a rash, but in this setting they work as a piece rather than a collection of songs.

And what a startling, enjoyably strange piece it is too.

Instrumental is exactly that, a jolly jaunty number, that could soundtrack the opening chase sequence in a British-made caper film.

Of the songs that you already (should) know, Athens, France doesn’t really gain anything from its reworking but is still as powerful as it always was, in fact their seems to be an additional layer of noise added on top if anything, brooding and menacing.

Black Country, New Road - For the First Time

Sunglasses however is a revelation, especially if your only used to the boiled-down-to-its-essence edited version, given room to breathe over 11 minutes, it is nothing short of extraordinary, with its now amended chorus with new lyrics which really works a treat.

Science Fair, with it’s overly abrasive intro and clever Slint references, soon descends into mayhem, the cacophony becoming more and more widescreen with every cry of “It’s black country out there.

It certainly is.

There’s a slight change of mood on the only sub five-minute track on the album, Track X, a faster pace, the music taking more of a back seat to the almost chanting main vocal, with backing “ooh’s” making it an almost conventional “single”.

The undisputed highlight is closer Opus, a long time live favourite, which finishes the record.

This is the sound of a new band throwing the kitchen sink at a track, it’s a mesh of everything that is so refreshing about BCNR, and yet will allow them to be dismissed as self-indulgent chancers by their (admittedly few) critics.

The seven piece, all seemingly ploughing their own individual furrows, come together to make something of a beautiful noise, with violins, saxophones and all things in between, there’s something for all here.

Peace Chord: Peace Chord – “songs exclusively designed for solitude”

Vocalist Isaac Wood has a vocal technique that sounds like he’s about to burst into tears at any point, with a special lyrical bent, like an arty HMHB, where you know that every other line will have a knowing reference that will make you smile.

Although Black Country, New Road are somehow being marketed as a run-of-the-mill indie band, even fast becoming a BBC 6 Music staple, this is anything but.

It’s weird, it stabs, it haunts, it leaves a mark, it’s a remarkable start.

An early contender for album of the year and a shoe-in already for the end-of-the-year awards parade, this is, with any luck, the start of a raft of albums that will make this year actually worth suffering your way through.

Your move Squid and Dry Cleaning, your move.

It’s the feel sad hit of the winter.

An album that will set the tone for what follows musically in 2021, a landscape setter, a marker, a line in the sand, whatever you want to call it, this changes everything.

As a wise man once said about debuts, just breathe it in and then look forward to what’s next.

For The First Time is out now via Ninja Tune. Purchase from Bandcamp.

5 replies on “Black Country, New Road: For the First Time – “a tone-setter for the rest of 2021””


I’m playing ‘the album’ – though the jury is still out on that. Sunglasses was, in this house, easily the best single of 2020 – by a merry mile – the rerecording though? It’s certainly fuller, sharper – the production I like. The loss of the F- me line strikes me as…well, a loss, especially as the replacement is kinda sub. Still, all good.

Album contender for 2021? Hm, I’m not so sure.
Cheers, Nick

Liked by 2 people

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