True heart bleeds through in every beat
Black Country, New Road released their debut album For the first time, featuring new twists on a few of their previous singles. Though the album’s tracklist may seem a bit short, each song is extensive, dynamic and bewildering. Comprised of a total of seven members—Isaac Wood (vocals, guitar), Luke Mark (guitar), Tyler Hyde (bass), Charlie Wayne (drums) Lewis Evans (saxophone), Georgia Ellery (violin) and May Kershaw (keys)—the English rock band knows how to harmoniously weave their gifts together equitably. There wasn’t one element that dominated a single song, as refreshingly Black Country, New Road elects to shy away from formulaic style choices.
Black Country, New Road is so profound due to the numerous combinations of sounds they managed to create within one album, not to mention an album only six tracks in length. From the juxtaposition of the dark strings and upbeat keyboard building tension in “Science Fair” to the western violin and gentle saxophone in “Track X,” For the first time sounds like what a Jackson Pollock painting would look like: endless color combinations all chaotically intermixed yet still somehow balanced. This dynamic is what allows the band to explore the mellow and serene, morbid and mysterious, as well as the raucous and eclectic. Though one may think working together as a seven-member group would be a disadvantage, Black Country, New Road hits the nail on the head when it comes to seamless production. Beautifully this can be felt in the music, with even the “Instrumental” track enthralling enough to play on repeat. The combination of keys, drums and saxophone are wonderfully blended to create an enigmatic and spirited performance that grew in power with every beat. Frankly, if it weren’t for the true giftedness of every member, the album would fall flat, lacking the technical skill that gives it such life.
Lyrically, For the first time is quite cryptic, though there are the occasional personal diversions that add a vulnerability to the record. “Athens, France” alludes to being caught in an endless cycle of mistakes, admitting “In the rural American fairground town/ I go-’round and ‘round.” Those familiar with the band’s history suspect these musings to be about their falling out; though, thematically, failure seems to be a recurring motif. Taking a somewhat narrative route, this can be seen in the story painted with “Sunglasses,” seemingly describing someone met with an abundance of wealth only to understand the sickening character that can be born of it. Wood sings, conceding “I am so ignorant now/ with all that I have learned.” Even when learning, Wood is still failing to accomplish what he ultimately wants. The album ultimately culminates in “Opus,” where Wood laments “I guess I should’ve had something else to say/ And now еverybody’s coming up/ What we built must fall to the rising flamеs,” playing with the notion that ultimately nothing is permanent. The concept is quite captivating, as impermanence would imply an inexistence of failure, just being. This cyclical motif can be taken from a variety of standpoints, though it seems that Black Country, New Road takes the subject of impermanence personally as if not being in control of change somehow makes one a failure.
Black Country, New Road truly delivers an astounding performance in For the first time. The record is full of contradictions—like the jump from enigmatic musings to personal quandaries or the switch from metallic shredding to soft strings in the same song—and these contradictions are what make it so exciting. The band wanted to deliver what sounded like a live performance, and they knocked it out of the park with intensity. True human nature bleeds through every beat of For the first time, crowning it one of the best albums this year has witnessed thus far.