The DJ Sessions


Album Review: the black watch take us on an enticing sonic excursion through their ‘Weird Rooms’.

Backseat Mafia | June 6, 2024

LA band the black watch are a veritable institution. Their albums have a sparkle and a sense of yearning that permeates every note and every song is a stadium filling anthem suffuse with melody and atmosphere.

Lead singer and songwriter, John Andrew Fredrick, a songwriter and a writer (his fifth novel came out this September 2023) and his son Chandler flew to Austin, Texas to record ‘Weird Rooms’ with producer/multi-instrumentalist Misha Bullock and his wife Sara. ‘Weird Rooms’ is the black watch’s twenty-third long-player since they started in Santa Barbara, CA rehearsing at the university where Fredrick lectured in 1987.

Fredrick remembers the first rehearsals:

I got one of my English Composition students to drum, a surfer Math major to play lead, and a twelfth-year senior Native American guy to play bass in those very early days. How weird: to think that we went from that to being a full-on family affair, with Chandler and I paired up with a musical married couple! And yes, I really think that the metaphor of person qua room is apt–and that WE ARE ALL WEIRD ROOMS. Some, like me, weirder than others!

There is a strong connection to family in this release with Frederick’s son Chandler’s involvement. As Frederick recounts:

One person who keeps me perpetually humble, is of course my kid who’s my biggest critic and fan–and of whom I, an undeniably doting father, am the biggest fan. Chandler has contributed to TBW albums in the past, but this time, after a history of him saying ‘Dad, why did you do it this way and not that?,’ I had him right there, in the studio, the entire time, playing key bits on guitar and piano and adding vocals. And of course fighting a wee bit with Misha and me over ideas and direction. Which was, after a few sticky bits, really healthy as my Yorkshire-cum-Austin chum Bullock and I get on, I’d say, too well sometimes! Though of course that’s hardly a bad thing–I’d do another record (even though I threaten to stop making music all the time) with him in a New York heartbeat.

Opening with, well, weird noises in the room with the 30 second track ‘When You Find Forever’, the black watch enter the stadium with the jingle jangle of ‘Myrmidon’, a tambourine flourishing, chord descending track replete with choral backing and Frederick’s distant observant vocals. This has the ring of The Brian Jonestown Massacre but with its own stylish delivery. ‘Miles & Miles’ positively chimes with a driving force like sleigh bells ringing and enigmatic vocals buried deep in the mix. The guitars scythe with intensity as the songs builds up, a wall of sound that soars elegantly into the ether. Ghostly voices hover at the edges, lending a surreal edge.

‘Gobbledegook’ spins us out of the reverie into a faster paced, brighter world with its poptastic melodies and joie de vivre that reminds me of the Flying Nun/Dunedin sound – a touch of The Chills and The Bats and a studied elegance. It’s a majestic track that shimmers with vitality and a cinematic widescreen vista. The lyrics appear a stream of consciousness and suitably surreal:

what in the span of three-fourteen & change can anyone say that matters a whit anyway? argue that
these can shift entrenched beliefs–& I’ll tear your rag to bits most days of the week. I never planned for
it–nor had you. I wouldn’t stand for it–nor should you. how can the hope of trust in them go well,
remain when it’s plain (don’t you know–few can tell); it’s gobbledegook & you know it is for sure. don’t
you know its worth.

The track is accompanied by a fuzzy animated performance video by Shane Mckenzie:

‘Without Protection’ is another quiver of quick sounds of a radio dial spinning and adverts before morphing into an elegant instrumental carried by sweeping strings. The title track continues the sprightly pace with harmonised vocals, an indelible melody and an almost folkloric delivery with a jangling acoustic trim.

‘Swallowed’ veers into MBV territory with its warped guitars and wall of noise, a short sharp driving track that soars across the horizon like contrails in the sky. In turn, ‘All Out’ has crumbling, crisp guitars and a psychedelic delivery from Frederick over a kicking percussion. ‘Vauntin’ Sound’ gives us more sound from the Weird Room – a burst of Beach Boys and radio white noise before the balladesque ‘You’ll Get Over It’ eases in with its female backing and dappling sounds, augmented by weeping, dancing strings. It’s another fine example of the black watch’s genetic code that has its distant roots in the antipodean south.

‘Would You Were Here’ is a beautiful track that is filled with a delicious melancholy and gentle delivery while final instrumental track ‘Fruit Stripe Gum’ has an almost Ennio Morricone shimmer with its twanging guitars and military precision percussion and contrapuntal wild horns that rampage over the top.

It’s business as usual for the magnificent the black watch: ‘Weird Rooms’ is an album filled with anthemic shimmering sonic vignettes that sparkle with intensity and melody. The gold leaf edging is of course the subtle vein of humour that threads its way throughout the album, lending a warmth and sparkle to the crystalline sounds.

‘Weird Rooms’ is out now through ATOM Records and you can download and stream via all the usual sites and through the link above.

Feature Photograph: Sara-Minsavage-Bullock

Written by Backseat Mafia


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