ALBUM RATING: 92
Where their compelling debut saw them heralded as post-rock’s most exciting prospect, ‘Ants From Up There’ propels the Cambridgeshire ensemble to the summit of the genre, cementing them right at the core of the exhilarating Post-Brexit New Wave movement currently soaring throughout the UK. In the space of a year, the band have refined their sound, following-up with a bold, illustrious sophomore release, who’s grand instrumentation presents a devastating, yet triumphant masterpiece, transcending the band from intriguing newcomers, to inspiring frontrunners.
The tragic announcement of vocalist Isaac Wood’s sudden departure from the band amid ongoing battles with mental health, momentarily brought the future of BCNR into dispute just 4 days before the album’s release. But if anything, ‘Ants From Up There’ reinforces the unique qualities each member brings to the table, and although Isaac’s contribution will be thoroughly missed, I have no doubt BCNR will prevail without their frontman. And if this is to be Isaac’s final contribution to the band – what a way to sign out.
But while essentially the end of an era, ‘Ants From Up There’ already reveals signs of BCNR evolving, with its classical minimalism providing a change in direction for the band, resulting in an album which the members consider to be more “accessible” than their debut. Assembled around the epic closing track ‘Basketball Shoes’, which has been a prominent feature of their live sets, the remainder of the tracklist endorses the classical, folk-rock direction, building up towards the monumental 12-minute closer which compiles every preceding element in heroic fashion. While this new approach sees the album lack some of the intricate post-punk grooves which made their debut so enjoyable, it’s typically justified by the way in which the delicate instrumental passages gradually progress before erupting into prodigious crescendos, causing many tracks to burst into life in epic proportion. ‘Snow Globes’ provides the best example of this, where the minimal instrumentation gradually receives more and more layers, before discharging into utter mayhem, as Isaac’s pleading to the “God of Weather” becomes consumed by Charlie’s frenetic drumming.
BCNR’s sophomore album is more impactful than its predecessor, both sonically and thematically. Though his lyrical absurdism remains engulfed in satire and irony, particularly on tracks like ‘Chaos Space Marine’ – a track described by the band as a “sea trip”, ‘Ants From Up There’ reveals a more poignant undertone to Isaac’s spoken word delivery. The mellow, softer pace experienced on most tracks captures these feelings Isaac has “tried to make not true”, uncovering his pain across themes of a failed relationship. Indulging in beautiful imagery, Isaac personifies this deterring relationship as a ‘Concorde’, signifying a love which has ultimately become unattainable. This leads to moments of desperation, in which his crackling vocals wail “I was breathless upon every mountain, Just to look for your light”. However, by the following track, ‘Bread Song’, Isaac has adopted a defeatist mindset, where his spiralling thoughts are reinforced by the free-flowing nature of the track, on which the first half follows no time signature.
This sense of melancholy isn’t restricted to Isaac’s lyrics, however, with the 3-minute instrumental on ‘Mark’s Theme’ providing one of the more chilling moments on the album. Dedicated to saxophonist Lewis Evans’ uncle who’d tragically passed away during the pandemic, the intimate saxophone solo provides an isolated atmosphere, before the piano and strings enter in spine-tingling fashion, amplifying the heartache. The ability each member has to dictate the ambience is what makes BCNR so appealing, resulting in tracks like ‘Haldern’, where the alto sax initially brings life to a standstill, forging an atmosphere which resembles something off the back half of David Bowie’s ‘Low’. However, as the track develops, the skittish strings cultivate a bout of mania as Isaac struggles to come to terms with the rapid growth of the band, resulting in his personal lyrics being consumed by the masses.
While inspirational in its own right, ‘Ants From Up There’ also pays homage to some of the band’s greatest influences, and with drummer Charlie Wayne expressing a recent obsession with Arcade Fire, it’s possibly unsurprising that the orchestral grandiosity draws parallels with ‘Funeral’, which continues to impact the landscape of rock music almost 20 years on. ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’ particularly bears a resemblance to Arcade Fire’s classic debut, with the track’s gradual progression allowing an appreciation for each individual element, before combining to form a powerful chorus of which Isaac’s wallowing vocals render excruciating pain.
Incorporating these inspirations with their refined style of playing, BCNR have produced an emotional masterpiece, combining classical minimalism with alternative-rock, in a way which showcases the immense qualities of each member. The best album I’ve heard in a while.
Favourite Tracks: All
Worst Track: N/A