News updates for Black Watch

Black Watch at Stereo Embers

Here’s a question: is it preferable, in terms of consistent quality, for a hyper-prolific ‘cult’ band to stay that way, to maintain that staunch underground status rather than cross over into the broader spotlight? Though it shall remain an open question bandied about mostly by critics and geeks (as if there’s a difference), there’s nonetheless, to many of us, some credence to the answer being ‘yes.’ It’s not an uncommon opinion that GBV’s Under The Bushes, Under The Stars, the record that brought them into the mainstream – or anyway as close as a band like that can get – was their last great record. And though we may need strike the ‘hyper-‘ from the above formulation, there’s little question that both the Flaming Lips and Brian Jonestown Massacre saw their art suffer mightily under the glares of their respective celebrity (I’m not counting “She Don’t Use Jelly,” by the way. Fluke hits do not celebrity status make). We here at SEM believe, however, that there’s one musician who deserves to challenge that tacit equation and that’s John Andrew Fredrick, who has been trafficking under the lower-cased band name ‘the black watch’ for well on twenty-six years now and whose new album sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy (the lower-case insistence now extends to album titles as well, it would seem), due January 27th, arrives full of rock’n’roll suss and staggering promise.

Whereas one remains skeptical as to the likelihood of the watch breaking out any time soon – which is far more a comment on the commercial environment of the times than a reflection of Fredrick’s perennially considerable potential – if any album’s going to stamp that ticket it’s sugarplum fairy sugarplum fairy. At times as indebted to Hüsker Dü (the fuzzed charge of “There You Were”) or the Who (the windmill-chorded, Moon-pounding “Scream”) as to his beloved Beatles, not to mention nodding with eager winking and knowing elbow jabs to late 60’s psych pop (“Darling, I’ve Been Meaning To”), SPSP distills the breadth of Fredrick’s songwriting skills as if it’s a cross between a no-holds-barred songwriters smackdown and an advanced-course seminar in R’n’R composition.

Over forty-one plus minutes, from the philosophic throb of the name-halved title track that opens the record, its pinging acoustic yang being balanced by a soft shredded yin of distortion as Jean Renoir makes a quick cameo (Fredrick’s Ph.D in English lit has often found discreet outlet in his songwriting) to the brief epistolary “Dear Anne” that carries us out – two equipoised acoustics delicately thundering above a dashed-off love letter – we’re treated to a widescreen songbook worthy of any of those mentioned above as well the likes of Joe Henry, Jimmer Podrasky, Bradley Skaught or any other Beatles-inflected American songwriter you’d care to name. Or Welsh, for that matter, as “Dear Dead Love”‘s longing melancholic lyricism, its stoical romanticism, puts one in mind of John Cale circa Paris 1919 and who doesn’t want to visit there?

Elsewhere, a similarly somber pop aesthetic gets a look-in on “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night,” a lullay charmer, “Nothing” ripples with hook-filled devotion and whipsmart couplets (drink dry ice/then go smoke in bed), “Quietly Now” breaks out with a smooth insistent roar that disputes its title with a blurred power-pop panache and a lengthy cymbal-smashing coda that, simply put, celebrates the pure frisson of rock’n’roll, while the sweet declarative “Anna of Leaves” – I believe we have a man in love here, folks – with its Cohenesque wordsmithery and ageless yearn pitches itself midway between a coffeehouse pop/folk anthem and a ballad of intimate hope that one could easily imagine being adopted by lovelorn couples across the country.

Though still a touring unit employing new recruit Tyson Cornell replacing Steven Schayer on guitar, longstanding drummer Rick Woodard and bassist Chris Rackard – and SEM will be the first to let you know the details of any forthcoming tour – sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy was not only written and almost wholly performed by Fredrick (engineer Luke Adams handled the drums) but produced as well. That production, along with the mix provided by longtime TBW producer Scott Campbell, has an unfussy mien to it that makes for a sound that’s honest, simple, and direct, exactly the bedding this set of songs requires. True to the black watch core aesthetic, SFSF is a trumping addition to the band’s cultish legacy. We’re tellin’ ya, get into it, and them, before the band gets popular on us.

 

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Black Watch at Slug Magazine

For their impressive 18th release, the LA-based indie group The Black Watch put together a collection of earnest songs that seem to both expand and contain the audible emotional complexity of their primary songwriter, John Andrew Frederick. The album title is a nod an outtake gem found in The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and the record as a whole seems to convey the same tired sentiment of Lennon’s line, “I read the news today, oh boy.” However, the album plays much more like British new wave. Songs like “Scream” and “Quietly Now” surprise the usual tone of melancholy verses into shoegaze jamming with heavy drum lines. Although this band still belongs to the spirit of ’90s indie rock, there’s a satisfying sincerity in Frederick’s lyrics and presentation. If any of these descriptions interest you, keep this album around for the days when you’re feeling moody.

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Black Watch at Magnet

After 20-plus years, L.A. indie-pop group the Black Watch are calling it quits. Their last release, Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy, came out in early November, with all instruments, save drums, done by TBW songwriter John Andrew Fredrick. The title track is short, clocking in at about 1:30, and sweet, consisting of dreamy acoustic guitar bliss, and it all sticks with you far after the song ends. Download it below.

Click through for track download.

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Black Watch at Dagger

After a million records (and nearly as many labels) it seem like L.A. ‘s Black Watch might have finally settled into a label who can take their reins and go (and now I’m hearing that this will be their final record….damn). Of course I’ve probably mentioned that in other reviews (and don’t go calling the band underrated/underrecognized either as leader John Andrew Frederick will let you know they have a press pack the size of a telephone book). So on this, their umpteenth record (their previous record was last year’s THE END OF WHEN) Frederick goes it alone, at least I think so.  Gone is Steven Schayer (previously in The Chills) and in is….I dunno, it only mentions Fredericks’ name on the cd cover. He’s been doing what he’s been doing for over two decades, writing chiming, literate pop songs that swing n’ sway and sometimes bust wide open. Opening title track adds some cool fuzz to the proceedings (while track #2, “There You Were’ is pure fuzz, his Metal Machine Music if you will) and things really pick up on the excellent, jangly “Scream.” He channels his inner Morrissey/Mark Eitzel on “Dear Dead Love” (if either of them were singing of a woman) and brings it all home on the killer “Darling I’ve Been Meaning To.” The second half of the record is just as strong. I’m wondering what Fredericks’ next move will be, I can’t imagine him giving up music all together, I guess we’ll see, but regardless, SUGARPLUM FAIRY, SUGARPLUM FAIRY is a damn good way to go out.

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The Black Watch at Whisperin and Hollerin

Yes The Black Watch are back with their 12th album and they have also put out 5 EPs over the years, yet somehow this is still the first album by them that I’ve ever heard and so I’m unable to tell you if they are maturing like a fine cigar or if this is the album where they finally lose the plot and should have given up by now. All I can do is review it on what I’m hearing and the info in the press release that tells me that while they still tour as a 4-piece this album is pretty much a solo album by Main Black Watch man John Andrew Fredrick. Will this improve the band’s luck or doom them to further obscurity? Who knows.

So it opens with an OK jangle pop song Sugarplum Fairy that has decent fizzing guitars and flies by in a very swift one and a half minutes. Before There You Were, however, attempts to melt the speakers in the style of the sort of home recording you get when you try to overlay 4 or 5 guitar sounds without the proper equipment. It’s almost like a bargain basement Sonic Youth and it’s not at all bad.

Scream is neither here nor there indie pop that has “Fey” written all over it which is odd for a song with such a title. The minor indie Pastels meets 14 Iced Bears backing for Dear Dead Love is sort of at odds with the darkness of the lyrics but works and would sound fine on any number of indie playlists.

Darling, I’ve Been Meaning To is sort of like Velvet Crush on downers. No bad thing, actually, though if it’s meant to get his darling back I’m not sure this is going to work. Good Night, Good Night, Good Night is quieter with what sounds like a buzzing amp sitting in one corner while he sings a sort of twisted indie lullaby hoping the shimmering tambourine will make you drop off and ignore the buzz if you can. Quietly Now still has the buzzing amp going as you go back down stairs hoping the kid is sleeping as strangely the song keeps getting louder like he is battling against his own best interests. It’s also a bit like The Wallflowers.

Nothing has a very familiar sound to it and is a bit like the Vaselines songs that Eugene Kelly sings. It has some well odd lyrics about drinking hemlock and arguing with Cassius Clay all while also trying to be a bit like the quiet bits of Cure songs. In many ways it’s also a high spot on the album with the insistent acoustic guitar being the main sound. A cool song.

Anne Of Leaves seems to be a sort of telling of the Anne Of Cleaves story, but not really. Again, it’s a quiet song with a nice piano or keyboard bit as he rues the brief encounter over two drinks at an airport. A Major Favor is so gentle as to be hardly there at all and doesn’t really sound like someone asking for a major favor at all.

The album closes with a love song to Dear Anne who may well have gone walkabout, but it sounds like an attempt at a Nick Drake style folky love song. At only about a minute long it’s also nice and brief and a nice closer to a pretty decent minor indie cult band album.

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The Black Watch at Big Takeover (print)

One of Jack Rabid’s top picks in the latest print edition:

John Andrew Fredrick intends this as the final tBW LP, which is understandable on a commercial, not artistic level. Perhaps the even dozen he’s eked out to negligible notice since 1988 with various LA lineups will become cult/collector crazes someday hence; whatever, let’s salute a high quality career, right to this end. Beatles experts recognize Sugarplum’s title; it’s how John Lennon counted out “A Day in Life” (instead of “1-2-3-4”), and that multi-faceted Sgt. Pepper closer educes the oxymoronic “simple complexity” of Black Watch favorites. Fredrick sings prominent melodies in basic indie-pop structures, layering in demanding influences: the buzz of modern noise pop (Sugarplum uses fuzzier guitar than usual), the poetic spare-ness of Go-Betweens and Felt, the dissonance of MBV, and the crispness of Neil Young (“Quietly Now”). Lyrics remain a forte, too; the wry regrets of “Dear Dead Love” and standout “There You Were” befit his proficiency as an entertaining novelist, too. Hail and farewell, JAF.

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The Black Watch at See Sound

Click through to stream a track.

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Black Watch at Austin Town Hall

You know what’s going to make your day a little bit better? You’re going to have to listen to this new track from The Black Watch in order to make that happen.  The band are prepping the release of their new LP, Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy; it’s just a year after the most excellentThe End of When (you better have that LP!). Listening to this first single, there’s a hint of Bobby Pollard in it, though I still love the crisp twang of the guitar that’s in the background.  Pop Culture Press will be releasing the album in late January, but I’ll remind you closer to that date, as this is sure to be another successful long player from the group.

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Black Watch at Broadway World

Album announcement at the link.

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