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Black Country, New Road - For The First Time (Album Review)

Friday, 12 February 2021 Written by Huw Baines

Black Country, New Road have arrived at their debut LP on the crest of a wave of contradictions, balancing often difficult music with simmering hype and seeking to render songs that would appear to exist in their most essential form as live freakouts.

‘For The First Time’ largely does a fine job of navigating this potential morass by keeping things relatively concise, with instrumental improv and spiralling ideas contained within six long songs spanning 40 minutes.

The seven piece fuse talky post-punk with klezmer and elements of post-rock, slipping into extended guitar passages that recall Slint so keenly that guitarist-vocalist Isaac Wood at one point refers to Black Country, New Road as “the world’s second-best Slint tribute act”.

There are piercing moments of brilliance here—see Wood twisting the line “I’m so ignorant now” into a weirdo hook on Sunglasses as saxophonist Lewis Evans lets fly with a barrage of rapid-fire notes—and surprising twists that fly in the face of any sort of indie-rock normality. Track X, for example, is self-referential and too clever by half, but it’s also playful and not at all smug.

Despite the band's longing to document their live sound, there are times when it escapes them. When things break down it’s impossible not to long for more of the bullish, unpredictable power they are capable of wielding under stage lights. There, they flirt with the building blocks of heavy metal and serrated noise in a manner that they have, probably wisely on balance, chosen not to here. 

Capturing that sort of lightning in a bottle is next to impossible, but that doesn’t mean you don’t notice the hole it leaves. The closest they come to this antic element on ‘For The First Time’ is the closer Opus, signing off at a febrile high point. But it seems unlikely that Black Country, New Road will ever sound quite like this again—the smart money is on album two being totally different—so the fear of losing that to time and fading memory sticks around.

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