25 May 2017
The Black Watch – The Gospel According to John
Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)
For more than 30 years, The Black Watch have been flying under the radar of even the mainstream indie community, quietly releasing album after album of accomplished guitar-based indie rock. They’ve developed a dedicated cult following of people who seem to only share their music with the folks who they believe will love the band as much as they do.
But The Black Watch don’t want to be a secret, and The Black Watch shouldn’t be a secret; they should be a band that is just as well-known and just as beloved as any of their more-celebrated jangle pop cohorts. Their 15 th album, “The Gospel According to John” is another brilliant collection of impeccable indie rock that should, hopefully, gain them a wider audience.
While it’s not an offering that makes any radical changes to their well-established, jangling, vaguely psychedelic pop sound, there has been one noticeable tweak: the increased—and more-aggressive—presence of the guitars. There are simply more of them, and they are more immediately demanding of your attention.
Much of this change can be attributed to new guitar player Andy Creighton (The World Record), whose layers of effects-washed guitars carry echoes of Ira Kaplan’s (Yo La Tengo) affecting, slightly-off key moaning. It’s a sound that takes up a lot of space in the mix, but still provides a fine compliment to songwriter/bandleader John Frederick ‘s melodies and faux-British- accented vocals.
A perfect example is in album opener “Whence”, which kicks off with a wall of guitars so forceful that it pinned me to the wall before quickly dropping down to something a little more gentle. But, even after the dynamic shift, there remained layers: guitars chiming on the top of the mix, on equal footing with the vocals, leaving another layer of fuzz floating, menacingly, below the surface.
“Way Strange World” follows in much the same manner, with the guitars simultaneously playing off of both the vocal line and the rhythm section. The influence of the great NYC band Television is another obvious point of reference.
There is not much change in mood or sound throughout the album, but that’s okay. The band sets an immersive tone and carries the listener along on a wave of sound for 37 minutes of bliss, before dropping them off at the end of the line, with the chiming, propulsive “Satellite”.
It’s the same band, that you have (or should have) known since the 80s, but this time their terrific songs are colored with wider sonic palate and more adventurous harmonic constructions than ever before. Think not just of Yo La Tengo, but also of Eleventh Dream Day, and other post-rock- type outfits of the 1990s. It’s a lot to take in, but there is something new to hear every time you put the record on. So, my recommendation is to put this one on often.
And then go back and discover the 14 more great albums that The Black Watch has put out since the 1980s.
And now you’re in on the secret, too!