Posts Tagged ‘sugarplum fairy’

Black Watch at Blinded by Sound

Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy by The Black Watch takes me back to a moment in high school that I will never forget. I read a poem in creative writing class, and afterwards a girl who I never thought I had a chance with asked me out. From that point on, being called a  “sensitive young man” would never bother me again. I believe that The Black Watch’s John Andrew Fredrick once made a similar discovery. There is a great deal of poetry in his lyrics, and his music strikes an artful balance between acoustic and electric. There is a sense of cohesion in the 11 songs on this album which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

“Sugarplum Fairy” is the brief opening track, and it is an acoustic piece with a dreamy lyric. As I discovered with the first TBW album I heard, Led Zeppelin Five (2011), they like to mix things up by throwing in the occasional dose of feedback. “There You Were” is the second track, and it opens with two minutes of feedback. Somehow he is able to control the sound to make it very melodic though, and it provides a unique prelude to the song.

The Black Watch’s music has been described as power-pop, college rock, even shoe-gazer. I am not sure about those depictions, and I do not know of a single artist who has ever agreed with the tags that critics label them with anyway. Still, we need some sort of shorthand to give a sense of what the music sounds like. In my review of Led Zeppelin Five, I mentioned the mid-’80s sound of The Church as a point of reference, and this could be applied to Sugarplum’s “Dear Dead Love” as well. The sparkling hooks and unforgettable lyrics make this my favorite track, with “Darling I’ve Been Meaning To” a close second.

From this point on, the arrangements become much sparser. The song titles speak to the tone, “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night,” “Nothing,” and “A Major Favor” are very appealing acoustic tunes. The album closes with the brief and tender “Dear Anne.”

John Andrew Fredrick formed The Black Watch in 1987, and there have been many personnel changes since. Outside of the drums, he played every instrument, and wrote all of the songs. The brief opening and closing tracks suggest a preface and an epilogue to a story, although that is pure speculation on my part. The fact that he has a PhD in English literature and is set to publish his third novel this year is another reason I think there may be more to Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy than “just” a collection of eleven songs.

The biggest test of an album for me is how often I play it. This one has been rotating in my CD player for weeks now, and I seem to find new things in it each time it comes around. Although I am no longer the sensitive young man I once was, the music of The Black Watch somehow takes me back. And that is a very rare thing indeed.


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.


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.


The Black Watch at See Sound

Click through to stream a track.