For The First Time by Black Country, New Road album review by Leslie Chu for Northern Transmissions

8.5

Black Country, New Road

For the First Time

Strap yourself in for a twisting ride of ups and downs with Black Country, New Road’s debut album, For the First Time. The Cambridge, England seven-piece have built a following based on the strength of their singles “Sunglasses” and “Athens, France” and raved-about live shows. The album, recorded live over six days with My Bloody Valentine producer Andy Savours, captures the band in their present moment, tuned up after a year of extensive touring.

For the First Time features six new songs and refurbished versions of “Sunglasses” and “Athens, France.” The new versions are more faithful to how the band plays them live now. BCNR have buffed the two previous singles and treated them with altered lyrics. “Athens, France” is still all flickering lights and swung-from-the-ceiling rhythms. Singer/guitarist Isaac Wood’s nervous voice still teeters on the verge of collapse. “Sunglasses” was the band’s longest song, at eight minutes, 55 seconds. But a new droning guitar intro and the sound of sirens pushes the album version to almost 10 minutes long.

Another marked change in the new versions is in Wood’s vocals. He’s moved further away from spoken word and closer to singing. He attributes this change to growing more comfortable as a frontperson.

BCNR included the updated versions to show the members’ evolution as musicians. One way they’ve grown is that they’ve learned to harness the power of silence. “Sunglasses” and “Athens, France” wavered between brooding passages and explosive moments. But silence is BCNR’s secret weapon on For the First Time.

The discordant, combustible “Science Fair” might be their best use of silence. The whole song feels like a ticking bomb. It threatens to detonate at any moment. But all the while, the song rides a loose guitar melody, Charlie Wayne’s tempered drumming, and Tyler Hyde’s impatient bass line. The billowing crater guitar shrouded in fragile silence resembles Slint’s blasted earth soundscapes. BCNR are well aware, with a joking reference to being “the world’s second best Slint tribute act.” “Science Fair” reaches a breaking point with a sizzling maelstrom of skronky sax, strangled guitars, pounding drums, and feverish viola. Ironically, the bass remains even keel.

Other album highlights include slinky opener “Instrumental” and careening album closer “Opus.” Both draw upon saxophonist Lewis Evans and violinist Georgia Ellery’s experience as klezmer musicians. And “Track X” is an unexpected breath of fresh air. Gentle sax and violin flourishes enliven this tender, melodic song.

“I am invincible in these sunglasses / I am the Fonz / I am the Jack of Hearts,” Woods sings on “Sunglasses.” But it’s all false bravado. “And you cannot tell that I am scared / … / I’m so ignorant now with all that I’ve learned,” he croons over a repetitive guitar chord and panicked sax. True, there aren’t enough lifetimes to learn everything there is to know. But bit by bit, Black Country, New Road are learning everything they need to know, in their present moment.

order For The First Time by Black Country, New Road here