Ants From Up There- Album of the Year

by Leila Ruser

Ants From Up There- Album of the Year

As the year draws to a close, the age-old discussion begins: of the multitude of different genres, artists, and artistic intentions, which album emerges as “album of the year”? 

While I believe that this very premise is flawed—the classic apples-to-oranges comparison—one album stands out to me as an incredible musical achievement, especially within the current internet-shaped landscape of trends and repetition.

The band Black Country, New Road, doesn’t take itself too seriously. The name itself is the product of Wikipedia’s “random article” generator, and the formerly 7 person band (following the relatively recent departure of frontman Isaac Wood) often shatters its own devastating music with intentional pop culture references. However, despite their own self-awareness, it is impossible to consider the band’s music as anything other than serious. 

On February 4, 2022, BC,NR released the album “Ants From Up There”: an experimental collection that builds to an incredible finale. While it could be considered a “break up” album, it deviates from any traditional classification of its content, delving into themes of love, loss, and loneliness all while employing powerful metaphors. 

After an initial instrumental “Intro”, “Chaos Space Marine” and “Concorde” establish the central idea of the album: Wood’s struggle with an unequal relationship. Concorde, a recurring metaphor throughout the album, was the world’s first supersonic passenger jet—one which was taken out of operation in 2003 because of its high operating costs and operational mishaps. Wood uses lyrics such as, “And you, like Concorde/I came, a gentle hill racer/I was breathless/Up on every mountain/Just to look for your light”, in order to establish this metaphor within the track “Concorde”. This lyrical thread runs throughout the rest of the album, too, which culminates in the song “Basketball Shoes”: a track beginning with, “Concorde flies in my room/Tears the house to shreds”. Alongside the constant representation of his love interest as an expensive mistake, Wood creates a nuanced portrait of his consistent devotion. On “Good Will Hunting”, he writes, “And if we’re on a burning starship/The escape pods/Filled with your friends/Your childhood film photos/There’s no room for me to go/Oh, I’d wait there/Float with the wreckage/Fashion a long sword/Traverse the Milky Way/Trying to get home to you”. While other tracks enforce Wood’s regret, his tender portrayals of love elevate the tracks from a simple “break-up” album to an incredibly human story. 

Perhaps, though, what distinguishes BC,NR even more than their lyrical content is their unique instrumentals and vocal style. The band uses saxophone, flute, violin, and piano outside of the ordinary bass/guitar/drums line up that most modern bands are based in. These added influences increase the emotional impact of each track, and allow for extremely powerful crescendos in songs like “Haldern” and the concluding song “Basketball Shoes”. Isaac Wood sings with a low, faltering tone—almost reminiscent of someone suppressing tears. While this could come off as overly dramatic, in the context of the layered instrumentation and intimately personal lyrics, it feels almost confessional.

Black Country, New Road released their debut album “For the First Time” in 2021, and only a year later, released the critically acclaimed “Ants From Up There”. It is not difficult to understand why the band garnered so much traction and musical respect so early in its career. While Isaac Wood’s departure from the group certainly represents an uncertain future for their upcoming releases, “Ants From Up There” remains a cornerstone of modern music and, in my opinion, the closest thing to the ever-elusive “album of the year”.