Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Black Watch - The Vinyl Years 1988-1993 (Atom, 2019) & "Crying All The Time" 7" (2019, Hypnotic Bridge) - A brief review

If you remember the 1990s you weren't really there - oops...wrong decade.  If however, you remember The Black Watch, a veteran, four decade-long indie rock endeavor from Los Angeles it's very likely you familiarized yourself with the band via some of their best known releases, including 1994's Amphetamines and a little further into the decade '99s The King of Good Intentions.  In total, the John Andrew Fredrick-helmed contingent, with it's varying lineups, has produced no less than 17 albums, ten or so EPs and singles, seemingly released among a dozen different record labels.  In fact, the Watch's discography has become so unwieldy and elephantine it was all recently corralled in MP3 form on a handy USB drive.  So what the hell am I actually getting at here?  Mr Frederick has been making music longer than some of you have been alive.  Though the compact disc made it's way into the market place in 1982 (or thereabouts) the ubiquity of the format didn't quite extend to the majority of independent and lower-rung artists until as late as a decade afterward.  The Black Watch were no exception, as their debut album, 1988's St. Valentine, and their Short Stories ep following a year later were vinyl and cassette only affairs.  Save for blogs like mine, these titles have languished out of print an un-digitized for thirty years (wow!)  The newly minted CD/digital collection, The Vinyl Years 1988-1993, remedies this travesty in one fell swoop.

Though the Black Watch's origins date back to the Reagan-epoch, Fredrick and Co. never sounded like they were a product of the era - not an obvious one anyway.  No wonky keyboards or cheesy affectations for these guys.  From the get go, the BW formula wasn't an equation that could be easily quantified.  Without (re)inventing the wheel the band's forward-leaning indie rock had a faint Anglophile bent, but not overbearing.  A pensive, thoughtful undercurrent was a vital calling card as well, yet not one to be couched in an elitist or erudite subtext.  And reverberating through every nook and cranny was rich, full bodied musicianship - resplendent ringing guitars anchored to a crack rhythm section, with Fredrick's passionate (albeit not excessive) vocals gliding over the top of all of it.  The Vinyl Years is twenty songs in length, with exactly the first half dedicated to the band's 1988 debut full length St. Valentine.  It's almost unfathomable that songs as engaging and proficiently executed as "These Dreams," "Ghosts From the Past," and the commanding title piece were the product of a baby bandCertainly there was probably some serious woodshedding that preceded this album, and subsequent to this BW made some considerably more sophisticated records, but St. Valentine sounds uncannily like the work of a seasoned band with a good five years or so of preparation to show for it.

Next up is the Short Stories ep from '89, a record cut from the same accomplished fabric as it's predecessor.  But check this out. The Black Watch adds violin to mix, and incorporate it so seamlessly that even when rubbing against serrated axe chords on "Dream in Blue" it doesn't sound a stitch out of place.  Elsewhere, the chiming leads on "The Ginger Man" predict the charm of soon-to-be-contemporaries the Ocean Blue, and "All Over Again" is a gutsy, indie-rock keeper for the ages.  The Vinyl Years is rounded out by a handful of track from subsequent singles that arrived shortly thereafter, including a driving, violin-laden stomp through "Eleanor Rigby," and "Just Last Night" is another ace original in the then nascent BW cannon.  I'm not saying the Watch's early material marked their apex, but this band sounds more inspired in the few first years of their inception than U2 did by the time they got to War.  Pretty damn remarkable, and as thoroughly essential as anything they would go on to do later.  The Vinyl Years is available from Atom Records or Amazon

On the opposite side of the coin we have brand new Black Watch in the form of a three-song 7" on Hypnotic Bridge.  "Crying All the Time! (Psyche mix) - which by the way doesn't necessarily scream "psychedelic" nonetheless it has it's own share of headiness going for it, not unlike recent Swervedriver and Less of Memory.  We're treated to two new b-sides as well, both indicative of how far this band has come since those astonishing-in-of-themselves early albums.  The single is available direct from Hypnotic Bridge, and copies appear to be limited.

1 comment:

Rob-in-Brevard said...

spavid - thank you kindly for another fab "bring everyone up to speed on this band" post. I'm a fan, but had no clue about the new single or the USB collection.