The Black Watch – The Gospel According to John (2017)
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Active since the mid-‘80s, the Black Watch blends the British and New Zealand indie-pop moods of wistful reverie with the frenetic reactions of the Cure, House of Love, and Echo and the Bunnymen. As with many of its peers, this ensemble continues with its lead singer-songwriter guiding a changing lineup. Spanning 30 years of its discography, John Andrew Fredrick and band return with one of the best albums from this reliably satisfying outfit. Recent releases from the Black Watch tended to linger over delicate moods. These highlighted Fredrick’s introspective lyrics. Given his career as an English professor specializing in literature of at least two centuries ago, these meet exacting standards. Now, the archly and typically playfully titled The Gospel According to John preaches assertive vocals over intense guitars. Reminiscent of post-punk sounds in Liverpool and Down Under, these well-sequenced eight tracks dash past vividly.
Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Rob Campanella favors a punchy, propulsive production. “Whence” blasts the disc open, glides into acoustic cruise control and then reverts to the heights. “Way Strange World” prefers a funky nod to recent Brooklyn-based “alternative” moves, combined with an Ian McCulloch-style croon. This ambiance sustains “The All-Right Side of Just O.K.” as a blurrier take on this type. “Story” slows only to kick in similarly. A subdued “Jealousy” soothes mid-stream. Whether one delights in Southern Californian Fredrick’s preference for British-accented articulation or not, the results will please listeners who admire the legacy of intelligent, textured, and convincing song craft. The final stage of this sleek record accelerates. “Orange Kicks” plays a precise spoken-word delivery off riffs which manage to sidestep themselves without tripping up. A hushed and brusque downbeat as “Oscillator Redux” ushers in the whirling sprawl of the orbiting “Satellite”. It closes this accomplished effort with a spinning declaration of yearning, over winningly chiming propulsion.