Whereas I grew up in a musical era where a whole raft of British alternative bands were looking to the west, the west coast of American to be specific, to find exotic and drifting sounds to mix with the starker influences of the brutal northern, city scapes that they called home, the black watch seems to be the opposite that attracts. John Andrew Fredrick’s music is filled with hazy, sunlit vibes that naturally find their way in just by making music in such an environment as LA but there is still an obvious love of 80’s alternatives and post-punk explorers from across the water. And it is this gentle collision of musical worlds that certainly ticks so many boxes for me.
But this is no nostalgia-fest, merely the product of someone who has been doing this long enough to have a lot of inspirations to call on, who understands the deft art of songwriting, who is able to blend styles and fashion unique sonic architecture out of a wide range of raw creative materials. It is also hoped to be the “quintessential LA album” although sat, as I am, in an overcast South West of the UK, I am probably not the best person to judge.
What I can judge though is the music taken at face value and as always it is sharp, accessible and succinct but also allows itself to be meandering, dreamlike and richly adorned when it so choses. They say that you can tell a person’s character by the company that they keep, the fact that this album reunites Fredrick with Scott Campbell (Acetone, Carina Round, Stevie Nicks), Andy Creighton (The World Record), and Rob Campanella (The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Tyde) tells you pretty much all that you need to know about his taste in friends and musical associates.
Me & You & Me is the perfect blend of brooding rock urgency and pop infectiousness, chiming guitars and pulsing bass hooks, emotive and imploring vocals whilst Darling is built on waves of shimmering sound and drifting textures rather than any easily defined beat or groove. And it is between such conventions, the structured and the untethered that the band weave their magic.
Upsy Daisy marries of The Kinks wonderfully understated visions with The Church’s psychedelic pop waves, Knowing It stomps and stamps in dramatic fashion, the title track is an acoustic tribute to one of Fredrick’s many sporting heroes and first single, Get Me Out Of Echo Park has much to say about the loneliness of the fashion conscious, tech-driven, anti-social media world. The album also comes with previous ep Paper Boats as a bonus travelling companion, which is covered elsewhere.
As always the black watch have delivered an album with mass appeal. Those of a certain age will find its post-punk pop trappings a welcome reminder of how much integrity, confidence and swagger pop used to walk but it also will act as a beacon shining in the darkness of indie fad and fashion and pops chosen cynical, fast buck machinations. Pop music used to be great, pop music can be again and Magic Johnson is the proof.