Black Country, New Road – For The First Time
Released February 5th, 2021 on Ninja Tune Records
Slint worship? In my 2021? It’s likelier than you think.
The British have a long history of taking things that started in America and doing them on their islands in such a way that critics say things like “This is unprecedented and unparalleled” and “This is a new touchstone for youth culture the world over” and “This is so much better than what those filthy Americans could ever come up with.” It’s almost never true, of course. I mean, are the Rolling Stones better than Muddy Waters? Of course not. Is Moses Boyd better than John Coltrane? Of course not. Is Stormzy better than Eminem? Yes, absolutely, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Biggie or Kendrick or Lil’ Wayne in his prime. So it often goes: the over-stimulated British musical press declares their Americanisms to be the best around and then swiftly moves on whatever next Best Band Ever they are hyping on any given day.
So it goes as well with Black Country, New Road. The band, a seven-piece setup out of London, released two singles and were immediately hailed as the “Best Band in the World” by The Quietus. Normally it’s NME leading the hype train on these things but no British publication is immune from this, it seems. I can see it, though. The first time I put For The First Time on I thought wow this is great and it really wasn’t until about halfway through “Science Fair” that I thought to myself this is uncommonly like if a jazz band covered Spiderland. Singer/guitarist Isaac Wood agrees; after all, in that same song, he shouts the line “Just to think I could’ve left the fair with my dignity intact / And fled from the stage with the world’s second-best Slint tribute act.” Normally this would elicit some derision from me (although I am on the record as enjoying derivative acts from time to time, like that one good Foxygen record) but as it turns out there just aren’t enough bands doing jazz takes on Slint out there. God knows there are enough moody post-hardcore acts that have taken their guitar storms and brink-of-breakdown lyricism to heart, but they never do it with the sort of multi-instrumental flair or winking sense of self that Black Country, New Road brings to the table. On “Athens, France” for example, there is the typical messy breakdown like you’d expect from a band that was clearly weaned on a steady diet of “Breadcrumb Trail” but instead of the softly squalling guitar feedback there are lovely saxophone lines. The London jazz scene, it seems, is leaking outward.
At the end of the day Black Country, New Road are not the best band in the world but they more than hold their own among the detritus of modern existence and honestly, in this brave second year of the plague, there isn’t much more you can really ask for.