Don't work out while lending your ear to Ants From Up There for the first time. That's what I did, and let's just say my opinion today is vastly different from where it resided during that session about six weeks ago. The second album in as many years from Black Country, New Road just may be my favorite of 2022. Music for exercising, this is surely not. Less certain is what comes next for the now sextet.
The announcement that lead singer and guitarist Isaac Wood was leaving the band is what initially caught my attention. Not for the fact of his departure, but rather the timing: four days before the album was set to drop. While there may be another example of a group's leader quitting so close to their new record's release, I struggle to find an analog. Even Lou Reed was gone months before Loaded hit the shelves.
Given the growth between LPs one and two, there may be a sense of "what could have been" following Wood's exit. Ants From Up There is a significant progression from their solid and appropriately named 2021 debut, For the First Time. Both an eclectic mix, no doubt due in part to the saxophone and violin, the latest is more dialed in, despite half the songs crossing the six-minute mark. A gentle melancholy intertwines with energetic fits to produce a beautiful, and occasionally rapturous, masterpiece.
More than an hour and a half of music spread across For the First Time and Ants From Up There portended a bright future for the English ensemble. The remaining six members say they will forge on with or without Wood. Where their new road leads remains to be seen.