12 for 2020: ‘Black Country, New Road’

Formed from the embers of fleeting side project (Nervous Conditions), Black Country, New Road hail from Cambridge. Although geography may not be their speciality, music most definitely is, and so is art. The sleeve of their ‘Sunglasses’ 7-inch is homemade by the group with an intriguing glossy image lovingly glued onto black cardstock. The proportions are so accurate that without feeling it, anyone would assume it was factory made. The music is a bizarre mix of post-punk, jazz, spoken word and experimental rock. Yet it works perfectly. 

Last year, the 7-inch of BCNR’s debut single ‘Athens, France’ sold out within days, and for very good reason. The track is a 6-minute epic produced by Dan Carey of Speedy Wunderground. Filled with postmodernist lyrics, luscious orchestration and a time-shifting structure more akin to classical music than rock, the group prove they have no fear when it comes to experimentation. The track builds into a dense and beautiful climactic march. Having this structure is incredibly brave, and was much needed in the (mostly) uninspired age of 2019. Isaac Wood’s vocals tend to be either a tense whisper, or a confident spoken word. 

In other tracks they shift to a more deranged delivery; showcased well in their newest offering, ‘Sunglasses’. Lyrically a sporadic ramble, Wood jumps between different topics in the space of a sentence. Most likely written using Burroughs’ famous cut-up technique. It is a captivating, yet unsettling piece in the depths of hypnotising territory. The guitars on the cut have a real Slint ‘Spiderland‘ feel to them (‘Don, Aman’).

They shift this to new levels in their live sets. The unreleased material is yet more gratifying. Two particular cuts sound like they come from vaudeville theatre productions. Georgia Ellery plays Russian like violin, while Charlie Wayne plays tribal drums, leading the rest of the group to battle. Together they produce a canvas for the rest of the band to paint on. 

On another track, Wood delivers a monologue about social media and YouTube algorithms. He has a haunting way of rolling his eyes as he delivers this. Not dissimilar to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Lewis Evans makes his sax sing as he plays nonconformist free jazz on some of their best cuts. May Kershaw’s keys are textural and futuristic, complementing Wood’s ‘Black Mirror’ like lyrics to a tee. Tyler Hyde’s bass lines are jagged and unforgiving. The guitar tones are reminiscent of those on a Velvet Underground or Television record. The members are also multi talented. Ellery has starred in Mark Jenkin’s film ‘Bait’ and leads in the electronic group ‘Jockstrap’. On the other side of the spectrum Evans has released an art pop album under the name ‘Good With Parents’. With a mere two singles behind them, 2020 is the year Black Country take the reigns.

KEY TRACK: ‘Sunglasses’ 

FOR FANS OF: Black Midi, Television, James Chance, Slint