Album reviews: Black Country, New Road – For the First Time, and The Staves – Good Woman

Black Country, New Road’s debut feels like a letdown after the early hype, while The Staves offer an assured third album that feels like a thirty-something reset

Roisin O'Connor,Rachel Brodsky
Thursday 04 February 2021 16:57 GMT
Black Country, New Road
Black Country, New Road

Black Country, New Road – For the First Time


From Shame to Squid, Black Midi to Idles, south London has recently proved to be a fertile breeding ground for young bands. Black Country, New Road are the latest addition to that list, their rumbustious live performances (remember them?) at the Brixton Windmill ensuring they've built quite a name for themselves.

At just six tracks, their debut For the First Time initially looks too short to be a full album. But with most of those songs running between the five to eight-minute mark, the record has plenty of material to keep a listener engaged. Or at least, it should.

It just feels tedious and predictable. Portentous twangs of guitar? Tick. Shivery percussion? Tick. Screeches of feedback? Tick. A frontman who delivers lyrics (rambling prose) in a croaky, squawking gasp that recalls Mark E Smith? Tick. It’s as if they had never listened to any bands besides The Fall and Gang of Four, which, of course, could also be said of BCNR’s south London peers.

If songs are to be as sprawling as these, the instrumentation should be both rousing and virtuosic. It is, mostly. The klezmer and eastern European influences, perhaps the result of saxophonist Lewis Evans’s work with Jewish folk groups, is the best thing about BCNR, but there’s not enough of it. Charlie Wayne’s accomplished drumming on opener “Instrumental” is obscured by an irritating guitar hook, while the frenetic “Opus” is a little overstated.

“Athens, France” borrows a line from Phoebe Bridgers’ superb single “Motion Sickness”, which seems off, given the track is about the American singer’s toxic relationship with Ryan Adams. “Sunglasses”, where Kanye West is defended in between narratives about Nutribullets and praise for single malt whisky, feels like a grasp at irony, or profundity, or both, but achieves neither. Don't believe the hype. ROC

The Staves – Good Woman


If we learnt anything from HBO’s Bee-Gees documentary, it’s that you really can’t do much better than a sibling-sung harmony. In 2012, indie-folk sister trio Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor bolstered the case for DNA-driven vocals with their debut, Dead & Born & Grown, which seamlessly fit the post-Noughties need for fresh-off-the-farm pastoral groups in the wake of genre leaders like Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver. Almost 10 years later, though Taylor Swift has the privilege to be a “woman of the woods” whenever she likes, general overexposure has made it so that little remains of the bucolic aesthetic.

Read more: The Staves – ‘They wanted us to be these sad, frail girls with long wavy hair’

The Staves recognise this change in scenery and have adapted accordingly on their wide-ranging third LP, Good Woman, which is overseen by decorated NPR-core producer John Congleton (Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, St Vincent) and aims to capture each sister in quarter-life moments like new motherhood, losing a parent, and ending long-term relationships, both romantic and professional. Imbuing Good Woman with little sonic textures like field recordings (“Careful, Kid”), delicate organ accents (“Trying”), and propulsive percussion (“Best Friend”), The Staves evolve past genre classification while still leaning into what they do best: pitch-perfect, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-esque harmonies. 

In essence, Good Woman is a thirty-something reset, a look at three women processing the nature of femininity and a lot of personal change all at once. Though it could stand to sound more consistent throughout (at times The Staves sound like they’re throwing that proverbial spaghetti against the wall), Good Woman successfully demonstrates that even through life’s lessons and uncomfortable liminal states, family is the most stabilising force. RB

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