Album Review: Black Country, New Road- ‘Ants From Up There’

By Christian Peeney

On Jan. 31, just days before the album Ants From Up There was released, Black Country, New Road announced their frontman and co-founder Isaac Wood was leaving the band. It seemed sudden and unexpected, especially with their sophomore album arriving shortly.

However, within the context of the album that was released on Feb. 4, Wood’s sudden departure seems to make sense. Ants From Up There tells the tale of a crumbling, codependent, one-sided, long-distance relationship, which also appears to be one big metaphor for Wood’s departure. 

The album’s first song, “Chaos Space Marine”, gives off a sense of adventure. It almost reminds me of something you’d hear in a modern Super Mario game, with lots of brass and jazzy pianos. Lyrically, the song speaks of an adventurer in space. It’s a fun introduction to the album, showing the creativity of the band’s lyrics and instrumentation.

However, I found the ending to be really interesting. Towards the end, Wood declares that he’s “coming home”, and the song switches to a time signature of 7/8, meaning that each measure has seven beats. Typically, having four or eight beats in a measure feels right, so that expectation and then the lack of an eighth beat builds tension. This makes it seem like maybe Wood is anxious to go home, and suddenly the fun instrumental takes on a whole different meaning.

Throughout the album, the listener hears bits and pieces of the relationship. The song “Concorde,” which is also the name of a supersonic plane, suggests a long-distance relationship. It mentions that Wood struggles with only being with this person on his phone or looking at their pictures in his attic.

“Bread Song” highlights the toxicity and the one-sidedness of the relationship. Wood is trying to put in effort (through phone calls- the only way he can), but his affection isn’t being reciprocated. Despite her obvious lack of care, he still tries to save the relationship. The toxicity is further explored by a metaphor of leaving breadcrumbs in his lover’s bed, hence the song’s name. Wood leaves parts of himself—trauma, insecurities, etc.—with his partner, with the bed representing the most intimate, private parts of her mind. So, while we sympathize with Wood’s character, we see that maybe he has issues of his own.

The instrumentation on this album is absolutely fantastic, and at many points throughout, it takes center stage. Several songs include long instrumental sections, full of catchy guitar riffs, heartfelt piano, and chaotic drum fills. “Mark’s Theme” is completely instrumental and highlights the genius orchestration. The song is dedicated to saxophonist Lewis Evan’s late uncle, who died of COVID in early 2021. It’s a pause in the album that allows the listener to sit and take in how masterful the instrumentation is, serenaded by Evan’s sad yet soulful sax solo. 

The album ends with the three-part, 12 minute long “Basketball Shoes”. It serves as a fitting conclusion to the album, with Wood’s character beginning the song discussing healing and a return to normalcy but ending the song with an agonizing scream and wet bed sheets (from tears or…something else). While the relationship has ended and Wood attempts to move on, he is still having trouble letting go.

The final line of the album is what made Wood’s sudden departure from the band make sense: “oh your generous loan to me, your crippling interest”. On the surface, this means that any form of interest from his lover gives Wood false hope. But in the context of his departure, the “crippling interest” comes from the fans. The more fans he gains, the more expectations he must meet. We are the toxic lover. We are the Concorde.

It’s a sad situation because it seems that the fans’ love of the band is what drove Isaac Wood to leave. He only sees them every so often at concerts; other than that, he can communicate with them only through his phone or by looking at pictures. Through his lyrics, he is leaving his breadcrumbs in our beds. The whole album is simultaneously about a toxic relationship with his lover and his toxic relationship with his fans.

This dual meaning is what makes the album so special. While crafting a story about the harm of one-sided, long-distance relationships, Isaac Wood also coped with his feelings about fame, his music, and the band. I think finishing this album is what helped him to realize that he could no longer be with Black Country, New Road. And after listening, I think I understand. And I wish him the absolute best.

Listen here:

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