Music Reviews
The Black Watch

The Black Watch


Stonegarden Records

Listening to The Black Watch’s ninth full-length record may give you an ’80s flashback in the best way possible. In other words, without the cheesiness that occasionally mars memories of that decade’s music. Singer/guitarist John Andrew Frederick and this 20 year old Los Angeles group have borrowed carefully from some of the best (mostly) British bands of the era to produce a record that sounds thoroughly modern in execution.

The opening title track brings to mind an Australian band however. Frederick bears a strong vocal resemblance to Steve Kilbey of The Church, for whom The Black Watch once opened. There’s something about that slightly stoned sounding over-enunciated, over-educated baritone here set against a nagging alt-rock riff that threatens to go off the rails.

It’s clear that bands like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure are influences as well, particularly on tunes like the more acoustic-oriented “Where There Were Orange Trees,” though the band’s outlook is admittedly less bleak than any of those bands. The excellent “Williamsburg” has a big ’80s beat and big guitars as well. It’ll make you think you’re at a Modern English concert circa 1983. “Much too beautiful now,” Frederick croons.

But the band clearly has an affection for the more modern haze of British bands like Doves, Elbow and South as well. That’s especially true on the gently thrumming “Covers the Bummers” and “The Lost Colony of Roanoke.” “Don’t you know your history from the 16th century,” Frederick asks on the latter.

There’s a track or two here where The Black Watch coasts a bit too much on their sound and struggles to shape the haze into memorable tunes. But they more than make up for it on the set closing “Never Know,” a superbly melodic, backwards psychedelia-tinged number that recalls Andy Partridge and XTC.

So forget all the fashion disasters, blaring synthesizers, and reverb-heavy drums. If you could bottle all the good stuff from the ’80s, you just might come up with something like Tatterdemalion.

The Black Watch:

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