Their debut album For the first time only arrived in February, but music collective/ seven-piece rock band Black Country, New Road are already preparing for the release of their second LP, Ants From Up There coming February 2022. The first single from the album, ‘Chaos Space Marine’, heralds the continuation of experimentation and perhaps pushes their sonic boundaries even further.
The track starts off in madcap fashion, as if at the slightly drunken, fast end of a ceilidh or a jazz impromptu evening. The repeated violin (Georgia Ellery), guitar (Isaac Wood and Luke Mark) and piano (May Kershaw) riffs are disjointed, in a sort of classical avant-garde, Steve Reich fashion, and are interrupted by a sudden saxophone spurt from Lewis Evans. Then, this disappears, and we’re transported into a rock-opera intro, with lead singer Isaac Wood dittying away with a piano accompaniment from May Kershaw; he ponders leaving London behind for New York and the high seas, with quotes of The Smiths’ (“though England is mine”) and the Bible (“love thy neighbour”) interspersed. Inklings of strings and guitars whirr in the background: suddenly, we’re launched into the chorus.
This chorus, mind, is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, especially the emphatic “yeahhhhs” (you could easily mistake Woods’ vocals for David Gilmour). There is a certain anthemic quality that truly carries you away: Woods is still “looking for a place to live” before the chorus suddenly stops. We return to a new instrumental section, but with more driving purpose this time, as violin and sax are paired with battling, pounding percussion from Charlie Wayne. There’s a short breather – a momentary guitar arpeggio – before they continue, this time with Wood’s second verse vocals as an addition. He’s never allowed to finish his sentence, since the riffs from the manic ceilidh then return, in a proficient interrupting capacity, without warning, every time he reaches any sort of conclusion.
This repetition of riffs secretes tension and expectation for something major that can break the cycle. The cycle-breaker does eventually arrive, after the words change – “and now, so long, chumps”! – and the intro riffs return – even the sly piano glissando – played at half pace.
“I’m coming home”, celebrates Wood, as tension dissipates. There’s some room for improvisation and exploration here, as keys, fiddle and saxophone riff around the central tune at a slow ballad pace. “Ignore the hole I’ve dug again”, we’re advised, as a realisation occurs that everything might be ok. The track then culminates, with sweet backing vocals from Tyler Hyde and May Kershaw, a comforting piano cadence from Kershaw and a ditzy sax sigh as Evans eases off.
‘Chaos Space Marine’ showcases all of BC,NR’s guises – as a rock band, an experimental music collective and as a septuplet, allowing all of its members moments to shine. This track is so masterfully planned out that, though there are musical surprises and Wood admitting the band “threw every idea anyone had”, it really works. I truly cannot wait to see what they devise next.
Words by Matthew Prudham