AFTER an agonisingly lengthy wait, South London experimental rock group Black Country, New Road have finally released a new single, bearing word of a debut album set to be released next February.
Having burst onto the scene in January last year with debut single “Athens, France”, released on acclaimed label Speedy Wunderground, and following it up with the epic, multi-phasal, soon-to-be modern classic “Sunglasses” a few months later, big things were expected from Black Country, New Road during the remainder of 2019. Subverting all expectations, they released exactly nothing.
The group appeared content to let the anticipation build up around them rather than rush into any sort of major release, instead touring hard with a backpack full of unreleased songs, leading to the emergence of a bootlegging market rarely seen in the age of quick-streaming releases. Then finally, announced by a comically inconspicuous stock image of a watch and the time against a plain white background, Black Country, New Road released ‘Science Fair’ at 3pm last Wednesday afternoon.
Formalities aside, the single itself is excellent. Opening with a quietly pattering drumbeat and simple percussive bassline that run unmolested throughout most of the song, gritty, dissonant guitars are introduced before falling silent to make way for a continuous cleaner chord.
After an eerie line in unison between the group’s saxophone and violin, lead ‘singer’ Isaac Wood begins his trademark spoken-word vocal delivery, and the track is under way.
Structurally, “Science Fair” feels like an exercise in tension and release, slow crescendos and false starts run throughout the song before a cathartic breakdown is finally reached around a minute before full-time. At this point, the saxophone is allowed to work itself into an atonal frenzy against the backdrop of a brutally primitive drumbeat, as the track implodes into a majestically distorted hellscape.
As with all of Black Country, New Road’s singles released as of yet, the lyrical content of “Science Fair” warrants a special mention. Isaac Wood’s monologue tells the story of a pathetically insecure male protagonist exhibiting himself at the “Cambridge Science Fair”, trying to impress a girl in the slapstick comedy sequence of an experiment which goes pear-shaped – “I was just covered in bubbles of methane gas/And you ended up burnt”.
This sounds very distinctly Cambridge to me, a scientific genius with an unfortunate lack of savoir-faire, and is typical of the band’s tongue-in-cheek humour.
From there, the narrator’s fragile narcissism is demonstrated after he is revealed to be “just one among crowded stands” after convincing himself a circus performer was giving him the eyes. Awww.
Male inadequacy in female presence is a lyrical theme that had already appeared in the band’s first two singles, which admittedly begs the question whether a) Wood needs to begin branching out on topics a bit, and b) how much of the lyrics are based on his own experiences, considering he appears to be quite obsessed over the subject, in which case is this all an elaborate plea for help talking to girls?
Regardless, on “Science Fair” he has pulled another extremely convincing performance out of the bag, managing to remain both emotionally poignant and humorous throughout.
Finally, the excellent music video directed by Albart Price must be recognised. Largely containing banal footage from American suburbia à la Pavement, a hilariously jarring dissonance is established between video and audio, before we finally get some rapidly panned shots of the band during the final breakdown that perfectly encapsulate the chaotic, disorientating feel of the music.
Black Country, New Road’s latest offering is an exquisite slice of experimental rock that can only serve to build the anticipation surrounding them.
They have proved themselves to be at the forefront of all that is exciting in contemporary British music, and fans will wait impatiently for the release of their debut album, For the first time, on February 5th.
Black Country, New Road’s For The First Time will be released by Ninja Tune on digital download, CD, cassette, signed test pressing, trad black and limited white vinyl; it’s available to pre-order now over at the Ninja Tune webstore, here.