For fans of: Black Country, “Ants From Up There” by New Road

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For fans of: Black Country, “Ants From Up There” by New Road

By Jesse Locke February 11, 2022

Black country, new road experienced the kind of meteoric rise that can only happen in the UK music press. With only two singles to their name in 2019, the hyperbolic early acclaim led to countless accolades, award nominations and a rapidly growing fan base. It might come as a surprise given that the seven-member London-via-Cambridgeshire band create a complex variety of post-punk, art-rock and klezmer-leaning prog, but stranger things have top of the charts.



On their second album, Ants from above, the jazz-trained septet gets closer to writing pop songs. There are still groves of unorthodox instrumentation and passages of hushed intimacy creeping to emotional crescendos, becoming more pronounced in the long songs that end on side two. It also follows the departure of singer, songwriter and guitarist Isaac Wood just four days before the album was released. In a statement shared by BCNR, Wood explained that his decision was primarily an act of self-care, while cryptically referencing the character of Professor Farnsworth from Futurama. With that in mind, it could be a long time before we hear any new elements from the band; in the meantime, here are some suggested next steps for fans of their unclassifiable style.


rock in opposition

Henry Cow
Disorders



Avant-rock heavyweights Henry Cow are celebrated for their explicit and uncompromising anti-commercial attitude. They first used the term “Rock in Opposition” for a festival in 1978, before becoming a collective of progressive artists united in their challenge to the music industry. Much like BCNR, the rotation of band members eschewed traditional song structures while incorporating sound sources beyond British or American influences. Henry Cow’s second album, Disorders, is an ideal entry point, bound together by frantic improvisation and melodic composition, and culminating in a 12-minute xylophone odyssey for the ages.


Jam sessions stacked

UJ3RK5
Live from the Commodore Ballroom



Accompanied by seven musicians, Ants from above swells in collective and slamming grooves on songs like “Chaos Space Marine” or “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade”. BCNR’s sound seems subdued compared to Vancouver’s octet edgy art-rock UJ3RK5, but both bands back their brooding vocalists with an armada of instrumentalists. This raunchy soundboard recording documents a 1984 set the band played in support of Gang of Four, shortly before UJ3RK5 members Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace and Rodney Graham turned to the arts visuals. The extended live version of “The Anglican” is a highlight, with an intensity that sways with a fiddle at its heart much like BCNR.


Words of self

Richard Dawson
2020



Isaac Wood’s quavering voice could be compared to any number of singers, ranging from Xiu Xiuis Jamie Stewart at Slinis Brian McMahan. Yet it is his sharp, self-aware lyrics, paired with hyper-specific references to contemporary cultural touchpoints, that ultimately set him apart. Take the album’s climax “Good Will Hunting,” which finds him in love a “Billie Eilish style,” who broke up with him over text because she was “moving to Berlin for a little while.” Fans of Wood’s moody honesty might find Richard Dawsonit is 2020 similarly, with the song “Jogging” clearly describing the Geordie musician’s doomscrolling: “Recently I’ve struggled with anxiety / To the point that I find it hard to leave the apartment / Days go by, browsing eBay / Or looking on Zoopla for houses I’ll never live in.


Post-Punk Room

Dog-headed Hermans
hmm of life



BCNR saxophonist Lewis Evans and violinist Georgia Ellery are often pushed to the forefront of the band’s jam-packed arrangements. They share this ramshackle chamber music palette with a Scottish post-punk band Dog-headed Hermansled by vocalist trumpeter Marion Coutts and viola-wielding guitarist Andy Moor (also a member of Dutch anarcho-punk legends The EX). Dog face Hermans 1993 album hmm of life is an exciting place to start. Immerse listeners in their world in the mediaopener “Jan 9” has a frenetic sound reminiscent of BCNR at its most furious.


mandolin mania

Jack O’the Clock
Leaving California



On the slow burn “Concord”, BCNR’s Georgia Ellery introduces the courageous sound of the mandolin to give the group an emotionally pastoral quality. Beyond the obvious comparisons to the REM of the early 90s, curious listeners can instead check Jack O’the Clock. Earned praise from none other than Henry Cow’s Fred Frith, the Bay Area folk-prog band fronted by mandolin player Damon Waitkus is keep Rock in Opposition alive for a new generation. On their latest album, lose californiaextended closer “Narrow Gate” shares BCNR’s compositional ambition as it oscillates between exuberant vocals and dizzying instrumentation.


Metamorphosed minimalism

Erik Hall
Music for 18 musicians



BCNR first quoted Steve Reich Music for 18 musicians as an influence on their 2021 song Track X and now note the historic minimalist work as the inspiration behind Ants from above“Bread Song”. Wood pointed out how the song’s choruses don’t rely on time signatures or cues, simply maintaining movement until someone in the band stops. There are many performances of Reich’s piece available on Bandcamp, but perhaps the most compelling rendition comes from Michigan’s Erik Hall. Carefully recording every part himself on synths, guitar and electric piano, it’s Music for 18 musicians played by one man.

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