ALBUM REVIEW: Black Country, New Road – For The First Time

Post-rock is back! Well, whatever sound you feel best describes Black Country, New Road (BC,NR), it probably fits in somewhere. Released on Ninja Tune, a label founded by electronic duo Coldcut, For The First Time shows that they seem quite comfortable in attempting to evade any sense of conclusive definition.

In some ways, this album is a throwback. The six track-length holds an affinity to the gargantuan compositions of David Bowie’s Station to Station, latter-day Talk Talk, and, as ‘Science Fair’ wryly namechecks, Slint. And, in a similar fashion to the aforementioned albums, the music within is delicately poised and thoughtfully nurtured. ‘Athens, France’ and ‘Sunglasses’ were originally released in 2019 and have both been the subjects of a lyrical and stylistic re-working since.

It’s fair to comment that, with two-thirds of the album already in the public domain as singles, anyone who’d followed BC,NR before knew what to expect. There is an element of predictability, not in the music itself, but from the lack of new material that For The First Time actually provides. Expanded and altered versions are all well and good (and in this case, very, very good), but a seventh track wouldn’t have been an excessive act by any means.

The freshness of album opener ‘Instrumental’ is evidence of the need for the unknown. It’s a snaking, brooding number, a percussive crash-course of post-rock-meets-klezmer that introduces BC,NR in terms that shrugs off all ideas of expectation. And, going into the rest of the album, don’t be misled by too commonly made comparisons to the likes of The Fall and similar post-punk groups. It’s lazy and deceptive, doing neither of the artists’ justice to their own originality or style.

Following ‘Instrumental’ lie moments of palpable vitality and presence. ‘Athens, France’ kicks off as a grunge-punk mover, ominously maneuvering through a dancefloor of darkness inhabited by the likes of Sonic Youth and Black Midi before departing with a nourishingly optimistic farewell. ‘Science Fair’ is by far the most manic and unhinged detour, repressively held together by a heartbeat bassline and restrained drumming that carry an undercurrent of intensely unnerving insistency. Album closer ‘Opus’, meanwhile, is an indescribably colossal finale.

However, saxophonist Lewis Evans has stated that the band’s “best asset” is to “play quietly”. True to their word, the jewel of For The First Time comes in its most subtle and understated offering. Released as the final single, ‘Track X’ is quite simply a mesmerising feat of post-rock artistry. Worked into the track are elements of Steve Reich minimalism in the forms of distant strings, keyboard and saxophone to create an atmosphere of beautiful dream-like mysticism, a much-welcome escape from its more imperious company.

Wherever BC,NR go next, For The First Time is a demand for attention that is hard to ignore, both for its distinctiveness and quality. While it only offers up two completely new tracks, its renditions of its more aged contents are still powerful and vital. Perhaps most importantly, it leaves you wanting more.

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