For the First Time
Black Country, New Road
2021 • ALTERNATIVE/ROCK • NINJA TUNE
BEST NEW MUSIC
London band Black Country, New Road’s debut is electrifying. With Wood’s morbid vocals and psychedelic instrumentation, For the First Time accurately traces an unusual breakup.
Slint was a band that dominated the underground music market in the late 80s and early 90s. Until today, their albums are classified as classic and innovative works, arguably cult essentials. They were considered precursors to post-rock, a genre that allowed instrumentals to be more intense than ever, reaching high levels of density, and lyrics to speak much more with much less. Since then, no matter how many bands have continued the genre and been successful in their work, none has ever seemed to even come close to what Slint was. Now, 30 years after the classic Spiderland, Black Country, New Road releases their debut, For the First Time, which seems to have the same effect as Slint’s Tweez: a great complex and promising revelation.
Although For the First Time is only being released now, members of Black Country, New Road were already making music since 2017. Previously, under the name Nervous Conditions, Isaac Wood, Tyler Hyde, Lewis Evans, Georgia Ellery, May Kershaw, and Charlie Wayne were already exploring their talents and performing in London. However, after reports of sexual assault against Connor Browne, another member, the group broke up. Fortunately, it didn’t stop them and they continued their dream, forming Black Country in 2018, and joining Luke Mark later. Since then, the band has been releasing loose singles, which were presented at festivals, however, they rarely seemed to culminate or lead to a full-length album.
Fortunately, now in 2021, amid a worldwide pandemic that seems to be eternal and not tired enough to leave us, in which it is not possible to hold concerts for crowds, For the First Time finally arrives. At first glance, it looks disappointing, being an only 6 tracks record. But, quickly, you look at the length of the songs, and an association is created again: they are very similar to Slint. And like the classic works, For the First Time is just as good. Of course, we cannot attribute the characteristic of extremely innovative and precursors of the genre, however, the album knows how to use every second to its advantage, being in only atmospheric instrumental tracks or in songs that mix dense sounds with lyrics that are free of any strings attached. In a cheap pun, it looks like something more mature to be the first time.
The album starts with “Instrumental,” one of the best in the entire record. The most striking point of the track is the way it is presented and constructed, being established by a very impressive progression where one instrument seems to pull the other to a homogeneous dance of sounds. The song starts with free percussions, drums frantically play tom-toms, accompanied by missed cymbal beats. Then a synthesizer comes together, followed by psychedelic fingerings on guitar and a saxophone. Over its six-minute duration, the song features several stages where each one sounds like a different song despite the instruments never changing. Towards the end, a violin appears to make a bridge of tension increases even more until the track explodes in an impressive and mesmerizing instrumental grandeur. In a way, they seemed to challenge us.
Thus, it can be concluded that the strongest point of For the First Time ends up being its sonority. Like most projects, not only post-rock but also post-punk, the sound of the songs seems to sound more dense, intense, and meaningful than in any other genre. The reference moment of this can be seen in the best song of the project, “Science Fair,” where the vocalist, Wood, talks about how he met his lover and how they had almost immediate chemistry (“I was just covered in bubbles of methane gas/And you ended up burning”). Like the opener, the sound is gradually built, but now in an even more psychedelic way. Mind-blowing guitar strumming and loud synthesizers contrast with Wood’s almost morbid voice. However, it is in the end that the track becomes the best, when the vocalist starts screaming fiercely and the instrumental fails to maintain its tension, exploding in a sound mess. Electrifying.
For the First Time’s lyrics are also very impressive. They are rarely working in an orthodox way, counting on phrases with doubtful character and morals, and never seem to follow a temporal logic even when they tell chronological stories. “Sunglasses,” the longest on the album, is the best example of all these qualities. In the beginning, Wood starts singing about how he and his beloved became a couple in decline. However, afterward, he seems to run away for a film and plays a character who cannot feel strong enough without his amulet, his glasses. In the end, a fight seems to catch fire with him shouting, “Leave my Daddy’s job out of this/Leave your Sertraline in the cabinet/And burn what’s left of all the cards you kept.” On an almost opposite side, “Track X” seems to paint only a few more specific moments, which seem to walk on the line between love and pain, tragedy and comedy. In both cases, they did something extraordinary.
But it would be petulant to attribute perfection to For the First Time. The single “Athens, France,” which got a new version on the album, has a lyrics that seem more confused and a sound that, close to the rest, is kind of usual. Besides, it is worth mentioning the fact that some songs are too long, such as “Sunglasses,” which despite being excellent, at times it even seems a little like two songs were glued together. In the end, “Opus” ends and confirms the tragedy: the couple who tried to stay together, finally breaks down. “What we built must fall to the rising flamеs,” Wood sings while all the instruments on the album seem to come together again for a final faithful representation of human complexity.