Black Country, New Road bring the heat to the polar vortex

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  • Black Country, New Road
  • Photo by El Hardwick

Winter is by far my favorite season in Chicago, because those of us who have learned how to layer properly can have some outdoor time in relative solitude. It seems crazy to walk around in the snow at night in this city. The wind is whipping off the lake, and the occasional passing truck threatens to douse you with road slush–but if you’re wearing thick socks and the right coat, a winter Chicago night is a majestic wonderland of silence.

And I’ve found that the best way to cap off these freezing evenings is to hang out by the bonfire in my backyard listening to tunes. “Sunglasses,” the summer 2019 single from UK band Black Country, New Road, has stayed in my “apres-hike” playlist since the beginning of social distancing last March. It’s just under nine minutes of skronky, noise-inflected postpunk created by a group of friends in their early 20s who recently discovered Albert Ayler and have a lot to say about it. Black Country, New Road is a seven-member band from Cambridgeshire, the county surrounding the University of Cambridge.

In the UK press, their songs have garnered many comparisons to Slint, and I concur that some moments in “Sunglasses” (as well as in their out-of-nowhere breakout single from March 2019, “Athens, France”) recall tracks on Slint’s 1991 album Spiderland. However, I hear more of the 70s New York ensemble the Love of Life Orchestra, if they had a singer–Black Country, New Road guitarist Isaac Wood sounds like a subdued but still agitated Mark E. Smith.

The band’s debut album, For the First Time, came out last week on Ninja Tune, and I’m sure that when in-person touring happens again, they’ll make their way to the States to blast out our venues with their allegedly chaotic live shows (they have those in common with compatriots Black Midi, with whom they combined forces for a livestream fundraiser for Brixton venue the Windmill in December). For now I’m good with singing along to “Sunglasses” one more time by my backyard fire pit late on a school night–there’s nothing like screaming “Leave Kanye out of it!” at the heaps of snow and ice as my neighbors dream of spring.  v

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