Black Country boldly introduce themselves with a restless, relentlessly creative debut.
The relative hysteria that accompanied Black Country's emergence last year (certain publications had the ridiculous notion to name the London seven piece "the best band in the world" after two singles) meant that there was always going to be tremendous hype to satisfy once the dust settled. So when we were actually presented with a full record this past February, especially one with the curious format of For the first time, you might have been forgiven for feeling a bit deflated upon noticing a mere six tracks - two of which included the band's (admittedly excellent) 2020 singles.
Rest assured, there is no cause for concern - For the first time is a relentlessly creative debut that meets its lofty expectations and then some, delivering an explosion of freewheeling psychedelic jazz come feverish post-punk that is executed with total abandon and furious passion. The potential wet squib of its low numbered tracklist is countered by each song excelling individually as its own distinct movement, with all but two tracks crossing the six-minute mark and none whatsoever wasting a second of their runtime as frontman Isaac Wood commands total attention throughout, swerving between freaky stream of consciousness trips (‘Athens, France’, ‘Science Fair’) and existential monologues (‘Opus’).
These delirious journal entries are set atop a wonderfully chaotic band performance that feels more than a touch improvised, lending the record an edge that underscores the burning anxiety of Wood's absurd tangents, which veer drastically between mildly disturbing and manically amusing. Perhaps the best source of memorable one liners is epic centerpiece 'Sunglasses', a reworked version of the track that earned so many plaudits as one of the standout singles of 2020 in indie music circles.
For the first time seems to be cleverly constructed around the mounting tension and claustrophobia of its near ten-minute slowcore symphony, as Wood wildly reels off classist and narcissistic rants as well as performing an intensely personal if vaguely preposterous examination of his own self-image, set amid the backdrop of a doomed relationship which ultimately ties into the album's loose concept on the life cycle of a failed romance. This theme of beginnings and endings is further signalled by ‘Instrumental’ and ‘Opus’ bookending the record, having both been written on the same day – a day on which the band say they built their musical relationship.
As satisfying as this debut is, one of the most pleasing things about its teasing length and short structure is the space it leaves for Black Country to continue developing their wildly enigmatic style. In the best possible sense, For the first time threatens to combust on itself with an overload of ideas and themes that Wood & co. will no doubt continue to mine in the coming years. If the results are as electrifying as this then Black Country will be a force to reckon with - judging by the gleeful anarchy and bold thirst for invention that defines this debut, For the first time could be a mere tune up for what’s to come.
8.5 / A-
Best Tracks: 'Science Fair'/'Sunglasses'/'Opus'
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