The long-awaited debut album from the eclectic and experimental London-based post-punk septet stuns throughout.
While the post-punk subgenre of rock music has never had enough presence to fully break-through into the mainstream, it has consistently been one of the most popular styles in the underground music scene since Joy Division released Unknown Pleasures nearly 45 years ago. And whereas the first wave gave way to the post-punk revival throughout the aughts, especially in the UK with bands like Arctic Monkeys and Bloc Party, it appears that another wave is emerging in London.
Along with their contemporaries Goat Girl, Squid and Black Midi, Black Country, New Road have been gaining some of the most positive buzz in London's lively underground scene. From their own experimental and uncompromising soundscapes that simultaneously bring in a wide range of styles from post-rock to krautrock, BC, NR's daring and wordy post-punk style is exclusively a Generation Z approach with its musical overlap and hyper-awareness of the world. Take their debut LP For the First Time as an example—a sprawling 40-minute run of six tracks that fuse the brooding post-rock vision of Slint with klezmer freak-outs. Here, the septet have no interest in the music industry "game," especially after leaving a mark on people's eardrums with just a few singles over the last couple years.
Nearly all of the songs featured on For the First Time were available in some form or another before the release of the album thanks to the London-based cult label Speedy Wunderground releasing the singles "Athens, France" and "Sunglasses" back in 2019. And considering that all of the other songs on the album had debuted in their frequently-bootlegged live shows, what to expect from this album seemed obvious.
While the Speedy Wunderground-era singles and their earlier live shows showcased a much more aggressive, angsty, vulgar and dissonant side of BC, NR's sound, those qualities aren't totally absent on their debut LP. The scuzzy lead single "Science Fair" features atonal guitar improvisations, brass freakouts, and a jazz-prog explosion that's reminiscent of King Crimson's Red era. For the most part, though, the new (and previously heard) songs on For the First Time are more subtle, melodic and nuanced, but still energetic and frequently fantastic.
The album sets listener expectations with opener "Instrumental." While not a standout, its post-rock style buildup results in a climactic fury by the end, with all seven members of the band sounding like they've moved far past how a "new" band should sound. The groove they eventually find is moody, dark, but dynamic, and the lack of vocals serve to introduce the capabilities of BC, NR as a talented group of instrumentalists. From there, the record moves into a re-recorded version of "Athens, France." Frontman Issac Wood rewrote many of the lyrics on the album prior to the recording sessions due to how personal the content of the originals tended to be. Wood appears to view this with regret, as the very first lines on the song and entire album go "She flies to Paris, France I come down in her childhood bed / And write the words I'll one day wish that I had never said." An interesting facet of Wood’s lyricism is that his style is almost strictly aiming at a younger audience with references to: "working on the glow-up," teenage angst, micro-influencers and namechecking Kanye West. And while they can occasionally border on corny, it's also refreshing to hear modern underground rock music address a youthful audience instead of attempting to replicate the ideas and topics of their influences.
The album's biggest highlight lies in its second half on the re-recording of "Sunglasses." It lacks a bit of the angst-driven intensity from its 2019 counterpart, but makes up for it by adding nuance and a better overall structure. And closer "Opus" calls back to the album's beginning, sounding like a much more fleshed out, intense and epic version of the opening track. The violin and sax interplay throughout the track result in the most exhilarating and lively portions of the entire album, and Wood's angst-ridden shouts in the final climax of the track is the most intense moment of the entire album, making for an extremely fitting closer.
In the end, the only place where For the First Time lacks are in its brevity and occasional moments where the song structures could be enhanced to make even better epic. However for a debut LP by one of London's most interesting bands, it's hard to be disappointed by a concise album like this. The album is all killer with little filler, and cements BC, NR as one of the most promising rock groups going into the 2020s.
Highlights — "Science Fair," "Sunglasses" & "Opus"
For the First Time is available now. Stream the new album below.