Ants From Up There

Black Country, New Road

Ants From Up There

Traditionally, a band releases their debut album and heads out for an extended stretch on the road, honing their live chops, twisting their songs into new shapes. But when Black Country, New Road released For the First Time in February 2021, that route was blocked off by the pandemic. Instead, the London-based band set out to tweak and tamper with their experimental post-rock sound for a transformative second album. They might not have been able to travel, but their music could. “By the time the first album came out, those songs had existed for so long that we were very keen to change the way we wrote music,” bassist Tyler Hyde tells Apple Music. The material that makes up their second record, Ants From Up There, soon came to life, the group using the labyrinthine “Basketball Shoes,” which had been around before their debut, as a springboard. “We wanted to explore the themes we’d created on that song,” says Hyde. “It’s essentially three songs within one, all of which relatively cover the emotions and moods that are on the album. It’s hopeful and light, but still looks at some of the darker sides that the first album showed.”
The resultant record sees the band hit hypnotic new peaks. Ants From Up There, recorded before the departure of singer Isaac Wood in January 2022, is less reliant on jerky, rhythmic U-turns than their debut (although there is some of that), with expansive, Godspeed You! Black Emperor-ish atmospherics emerging in their place. “Fundamentally, we relearned an entirely new style of playing with each other,” says drummer Charlie Wayne. “We learned a lot about how to express ourselves just for each other rather than for anything else going on externally.” Here Hyde, Wayne, and saxophonist Lewis Evans take us through it, track by track.
“Intro” Lewis Evans: “This uses the theme from ’Basketball Shoes,’ compressed into these little micro cells and repeated over and over again. It’s just a straight-up, impactful welcome to the album.”
“Chaos Space Marine” Tyler Hyde: “In this song, we allowed ourselves to get out all the stupid, funny joke style of playing. It was just our way of saying yes to everything. There are many things across the album—and in previous songs from the last album—that are seemingly good ideas, but they’ve come about through a joke. I think the rest of the album is much more considered than that. It’s our silly song. It’s a voyage. It’s a sea shanty. It’s a space trip.”
“Concorde” Charlie Wayne: “I love how it follows the same chord progression the whole way through, and it’s driven but very soft. It’s got real moments of delicacy, and it’s a song that we all thought quite a lot about when we were getting it together. When you’re restricted to that one-chord sequence, you want it to feel as though it’s going somewhere and progressing, so the peaks and troughs have to be considered.”
“Bread Song” LE: “It’s like two different songs in one. You’ve got this really quite flowing and free track in a melodic and conventional harmonic way, but rhythmically free and flowing accompaniment to Isaac’s vocals. It feels quite orchestral, and the way that we all play together on this recording is so in sync with each other. We were listening to each other so much, so the swells that one person starts making, people start responding to, and everybody is swelling at the same time and getting quieter at the same time. Then it turns into this almost Soweto, kind of township-style pop tune at the end. It’s a really fun ending to an intense, emotional tune.”
“Good Will Hunting” LE: “This is another slightly silly one, and it’s got a really silly ending which actually never made the cut on the album, but it’s heavily driven by the riff on the guitars. I think at the time we were listening to quite a bit of Kurt Vile, especially rhythmically. I can remember a conversation about when we wanted the drums to come in and to be super straight, super driven. Then for the choruses, rhythmically, to completely flip and not feel like they were big at all. So for both the choruses, the drums are just tiny.”
“Haldern” TH: “We were playing at Haldern Pop Festival in north Germany during lockdown. We’d just been allowed to fly for work purposes, and we were doing this session. We did two performances there, and the second one was a livestream, and we weren’t allowed to play songs that weren’t released. At the time, that left us with not very much that we weren’t already bored with, so we decided to do some improv. It was a very lucky day where we were all very in sync with one another. So ‘Haldern’ was totally from improv, which is not how we write ever.”
“Mark’s Theme” LE: “This is a tune written kind of for my uncle who passed away from COVID in 2021. I wrote it on my tenor saxophone as soon as I found out. I just started playing and wrote that. It’s a reflection on him and my feelings towards him passing away and everything being really bleak. He was a massive fan and supporter of the band, so it felt right to put that on the album and to have his name remembered with our music.”
“The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” CW: “For me, this is about as far away as we went from the first album. Aesthetically, where the first album has moments of real dissonance and apathy, ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’ is very warm and rich and quite uplifting. I think it strikes right to the heart of what the album is for me, which is fundamentally being in the room, making music with my friends.”
“Snow Globes” LE: “This is another tune where we really thought about what we wanted from it before we wrote it. We had examples of things we liked, and one of them was Frank Ocean’s ‘White Ferrari.’ We liked the idea of it almost being like two different bands [playing] at the same time. So you’ve got this quite simple but quite heart-wrenching, fugal-sounding arrangement of all the instruments with a drum solo that is just crazy and doesn’t really relate too much to what is going on in the other instruments. We react to the drum solo, but he doesn’t react to us. It’s that kind of idea.”
“Basketball Shoes” TH: “It’s essentially a medley of the whole album. It’s got literal musical motifs that are repeated on different songs in the album. It touches on all the themes that we’ve been exploring, and it’s the most climactic song on the album. It wouldn’t really make sense to not finish with it, it’s so exhausting. It’s such a journey. I think you just wouldn’t be able to pay much attention to anything that followed it because you’d be so wiped out after listening to it.”

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