Black Country, New Road’s 2019 single ‘Sunglasses’ was a timely riposte to young middle class anxiety, but it also signalled a collective uneasiness - its unfettered chaos feeling like a slow-motion descent into insanity. Indeed, the song has become an unlikely anthem for a generation living in confusing, problematic times. Vocalist Isaac Wood’s quivering rant about the hollowness of materialism, along with its overall wiry tension, sounds like 2020, in the same way This Heat’s 'Deceit' sounded like a nightmarish Cold War cautionary tale without ever explicitly mentioning it.
The band exist in a paradox where so-called high and low art intersect; this is noticeable throughout 'For the first time', making it a unique listen (where else would you hear references to Kanye West amid a fusion of jazz and post-punk?). In some ways, they are the result of the Internet: 'For the first time' is the sound of being overwhelmed by information and the easy access to art and pop culture. Seemingly, it’s because of this that their influences are all over the place.
Previously released tracks have been reworked to sound more like their live sets. It pays off spectacularly – the subtle changes on ‘Sunglasses’, ‘Science Fair’ and ‘Athens, France’ adds more nuance and vitality. Elsewhere, ‘Instrumental’, sounds like it could soundtrack a Cold War drama about espionage, while the gentler ‘Track X’ denotes sentimentality and introspection, a side to the band we haven’t previously seen.
'For the first time' proves that Black Country, New Road are a much-needed anomaly. There are times when it feels alien – futuristic, even. A product of its time, it will unsettle and confuse you, and there are even moments that feel poignant. That is why they will be remembered as an important band, and this album a significant milestone in modern guitar music.
Words: Hayley Scott
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