Welcome to Beandon’s Musical Corner, the only place on campus for in-depth, exhaustive reviews of the latest releases in rock, jazz, experimental … and pretty much everything else. Brandon Rupp (also known by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” under which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Student Music Director) explores a new title and gives unfiltered feedback, regardless of the genre. Feel free to send him music; he’d love to take a look!
The music of 2022 has already shown incredible promise. Thus far, we’ve seen new records from Animal Collective, Mitski, Big Thief, Beach House, Earl Sweatshirt, The Weeknd and even a leaked release of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s debut demo tape from 1994. However, one release from the first quarter of 2022 stands out in particular — “Ants From Up There,” the sophomore album by Black Country, New Road (BC, NR) is an absolutely fantastic listen and an early contender for album of the year.
It’s incredibly easy to love this album if you were already a fan of BC, NR. Following the release of their debut, “For the First Time,” their sophomore effort represents a complete and total extension into the next stratosphere of musicality — even more blazing horns, emotional string sections, group vocals and massive post-rock build-ups.
Unfortunately, to tell you the truth, I was not the biggest fan of their first record. It felt like the band was still finding their footing, juggling a variety of sounds but never landing precisely on one or another. However, tracks like “Sunglasses” (and the Klezmer influence on the record in general) showcased a deeply talented band unafraid to extend their expressive prowess far further than most of their contemporaries. As BC, NR has continued to develop, they have found a delicate balance between instrumental complexity and soul-stirring lyricism. Frontman Isaac Wood pours his heart into every word, so the band is able to draw true emotion out of the listener, even over angular, distorted guitar riffs in odd time-signatures.
“Ants From Up There” (AFUT) is no different, but, with every murmured utterance, the descriptive stories of love and loss feel much more precise and down-to-earth than their earlier work. Wood truly looks inwards on AFUT, with heartbreaking couplets like “I get lost, I freak out / You come home and hold me tight / As if it never happened at all.” Sadly, this marks the end of Wood’s time with the band, as a lengthy Instagram post explains. AFUT serves as the final swan song of this iteration of the group: what a way to go out!
Take the record’s introductory moments for example, starting with the aptly-titled “Intro,” which rides a 5/4 contemporary-classical melody into the dramatic and vaguely-operatic “Chaos Space Marine.” With staccato pianos, theatrical lyrical delivery and an astonishing ending (featuring flutes and “la-la-la”s reminiscent of early Mercury Rev), this track gets the blood pumping and showcases everything that the band has improved on since the first release. The influence of G,Y!BE, Sufjan Stevens and especially Arcade Fire is evident on AFUT, alongside the usual comparisons made with post-rock giants like Slint. BC, NR has never sounded this emotionally invested in their own creations — many of these songs have the grandeur and boisterous spirit needed to be on Broadway!
The album finds plenty of time to revel in its beauty. Tracks like “Concorde,” and the record’s three closing tracks, showcase gorgeous lyrical imagery paired with the band’s textured instrumentals. The concluding three tracks comprise a virtually album-length, 29-minute suite that takes up half of AFUT’s runtime. However, not a second feels wasted — the twinkling pianos of “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade,” the tranquil guitar strums and powerful drumming of “Snow Globes” and virtually everything about the masterpiece “Basketball Shoes” show an incredible development in maturity for the band compared to their debut.
I view “Basketball Shoes” to be the highlight of the album. The almost 13-minute magnum opus cycles through segment after segment, building and growing in ways that few post-rock songs are able to. Unlike the common criticism thrown at the genre of post-rock, pegging it as boring “crescendo-core” build ups ad infinitum, this song ebbs and flows like a living and breathing piece of music. As cliché as that may sound, “Basketball Shoes” represents many of the ups and downs of humanity over its lengthy run-time, featuring moments of almost absolute silence contrasted with a theatrical and euphoric ending that feels like the most grand Madison Square Garden concert of all time coming to a technicolor close.
The middle section of the release is also stunning. The earnest “Good Will Hunting,” for example, features the great hook “She had Billie Eilish style / Moving to Berlin for a little while” as well as the most math-rock guitar riff seen on the record. It’s a welcome, though brief, moment of levity that represents one of the catchiest moments of the band’s entire discography. “Haldern” showcases the influence the band has taken from Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens (or, more broadly, the genre of contemporary-classical), featuring rapid, staccato builds of piano, looping string lines and joyous repetition. The band continues to flex their classical muscle with “Mark’s Theme,” which is dedicated to saxophonist Lewis Evans’ uncle who passed away as a result of COVID-19 complications in 2021. The piece is a loving tribute that features soulful saxophone parts backed with light accompaniment. The ending, an audio excerpt of Evans’ uncle singing, truly emphasizes the power of music to bring people together and the devastating effects of the pandemic — all without a single discernible word. This piece is far more than a simple interlude in the track listing.
Few words are able to convey the beauty of “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade.” When peering deeply into the track, a heart-breaking reference to past emotional trauma as well as the toxic tendency for a relationship to devolve into mere codependency is uncovered. This track showcases Wood’s expert ability to paint a real world situation and explore what it reveals about interpersonal relationships. “Snow Globes” takes a markedly more reserved approach, however. The three-minute instrumental introduction to the song is highly reminiscent of “Storm,” off of G,Y!BE’s masterpiece, “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.” However, the true highlight of the song is the technically-impressive free-jazz drumming throughout the song’s nine-minute runtime, which propels the song forward in a thrilling way.
I could not have asked for much more from this band’s second release. It perfects every aspect of their sound, wrangles their technical prowess into emotionally potent and fully developed compositions and represents one of the clear apexes of the genre of post-rock. I’ve listened to this album almost every day since its release, and I implore you to give it a chance yourself. Let its display of pure emotion consume you. Allow the instrumental talent to wow you. But never forget the awkward parts of the human experience that this album reminds you are far too common to get worked up about. As the album emphasizes, looking out of the window during a flight in a Concorde, these hiccups seem like mere ants from up there.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.
In a previous version of this article, Godspeed You! Black Emperor was incorrectly referred to as Black Emperor. The Daily regrets this error.