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Black Country, New Road, and a New Kind of Music Emerging Out of the UK

On February 5 of this year, Black Country, New Road released their debut album, For the first time on London-based label Ninja Tune. I found out about these guys through my part-time gig at a local record store through doing some ordering in a new release catalog. I swore them off based on their posh bio calling them “the best band in the world” and comparing them to post-punk legends Slint. But after a month and some change later, something drove me to listen to them; needless to say, I was in awe. Despite only having one song under the five minute mark, the album is like a breath of fresh air – it sounds like something almost completely new. For a second, I actually found myself wondering, is Black Country, New Road the best band in the world?

Maybe you’re wondering who is Black Country, New Road?, and I hope you are. They’re a seven-piece experimental rock band with six different instruments (two guitars, a bass, a violin, a saxophone, keys, and drums) hailing from the U.K. And believe it or not, they’re an experimental band with not one, not two, but three women.

They first started playing music together in 2017 in a now defunct band called Nervous Conditions. Nervous Conditions split after just a year in 2018 after countless sexual assault allegations against frontman Connor Browne. The non-shitty members of the band renamed themselves to Black Country, New Road, recruited their second guitarist, and released their first single, “Sunglasses” on a limited-run seven inch with “Athens, France” on the B-side in 2019. 

Okay, so what makes them special? I would argue that what makes them so special is the energy that they bring forth. Their music adopts elements from genres; the noisey absurdity of jazz, the mercurial irreverence of punk, the acute build up of prog, all composed beautifully behind the poetic lyricism that spurts out of singer Issac Woods mouth in a talk-sing voice. But not a talk-sing voice like Bob Dylan or Lou Reed, Woods sounds almost panicked. The agitated inflection that he brings forth creates a really intense vitality that feels so good to listen to while walking around on campus. If I were to describe what they sound like in one word, I would describe their sound as angry, unforgiving. Okay, that’s two words, but they’re synonymous enough. 

Something I should probably note about Black Country, New Road is that back when touring was a thing, they toured often with Black Midi, an experimental rock band also from London. I found this to be honestly quite insane because upon my first listen of For the first time, I thought that it sounded a lot like Black Midi critically acclaimed 2019 debut Schlagenheim. And now you’re probably asking “Okay, what’s so important about this?” Well, dear reader, when I first listened to Black Midi’s Schlagenheim, I thought the same thing about their music as I did today with Black Country, New Road’s music. They both bring forward something so new in music. It’s almost like there’s something in the water across the pond in London that helped them create a different sound. 

Beyond having shared the stage with one another, there’s something else that connects Black Country to Black Midi: they released their first couple of singles on Speedy Wunderground. Speedy Wunderground is a label run by record producer Dan Carey, who has produced records for Squid, Goat Girl, and countless others. These other artists are critical here because they are other experimental rock bands from the UK who have adopted the same elements from the same genres as Black Country and Black Midi have. It’s safe to say that there is a new kind of music emerging out of the UK right now. 

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