Experimental rock group Black Country, New Road released their second studio album, Ants From Up There. The England-band is composed of a saxist, violinist, and pianist along with the four standard rock instruments. Their size does not reduce the importance of any member, however; all seven musicians are incredibly skilled in their respective crafts. When they work together, they create some incredible, unique sounds. The album came out along with some sad news for the band, with singer Isaac Wood announcing that he would quit the band and cancel their upcoming tour as a result of mental health concerns.
This news is unfortunately unsurprising. Wood’s voice makes him sound like he just walked 1,000 miles, fought off a rabid wolf, screamed his lungs out, and staggered right into the vocal booth. Throughout the record, the other band members perfectly complement Wood’s voice. Each instrument is played with great levels of both passion and precision. The members synergize to create jazz-like feelings of organized chaos.
This organized chaos is perfectly exemplified in the first two songs. The instrumental “Intro” prepares the listener for their world to be turned inside out, with horns in a funky time signature looping and gradually joined by the rest of the band. As soon as the band is wholly together, they introduce listeners to the entropy that will be present on the rest of the album as each instrument gets more and more chaotic and distant from the rest.
The next song “Chaos Space Marine” is titled after a character in the game Warhammer 40,000. Wood sings about using it to escape his failing relationship, the topic around which the entire album is themed. Instrumentally, the feeling changes back and forth between fast-paced disorder and slow-burning, tired organization. This helps the listener accompany Wood through the anxiety that he distracts himself from as he plays the role of a chaos space marine.
The final lines on the track, “Billie Eilish style / A Concorde will fly / Ignore the hole I’ve dug again,” each preview the lyrics of later songs on the record. These brief references give listeners a glimpse of what Wood has in the back of his mind as he distracts himself, while also simply letting them know that they are listening to a concept album.
The next track, “Concorde,” is lyrically central to the record, as Wood refers to his significant other as “Concorde” throughout. Rather than being his lover’s name, “Concorde” is likely a reference to the Concorde fallacy, another name for the sunk cost fallacy. Similarly, Wood’s relationship is crumbling and bringing him more pain than happiness, but he cannot stop himself from continuing to invest his emotional energy and time into it; he has already put in too much to turn back. Wood illustrates all of these feelings and events beautifully, with lines like, “And you, like Concorde / I came, a gentle hill racer / I was breathless upon every mountain / Just to look for your light.”
Each track tells us a little more about their relationship and uses creative metaphors to do so. “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” has Wood detail being comforted by his partner after she cheated on him. He perfectly communicates the earth-shattering anxiety of only being able to be comforted by the person who wronged him, and the implicit but involuntary forgiveness accompanying the comfort’s acceptance. Along with the Concorde metaphor, “Snow Globes” is one of a few tracks in which Wood portrays himself as Henry VIII’s first wife as he prays for his unfaithful partner and tries to make peace with her cheating after everything between them is over and he has no one left.
Each track beautifully provides sad vignettes of Wood’s all-consuming old relationship, the only resolution being that we know he is attempting to move on and it is difficult. The lyrics are beautifully crafted. Each instrument harmonizes to join Wood’s unique voice in immersing the listener in the album’s story. Though it is successfully immersive, sometimes there is too much lyrical repetition for it to be pleasant. All being said and done, Ants From Up There is painful, moving, and brilliant. The music world has lost something great with Isaac Wood’s departure, and we wish him all the best in his healing.