Album Review: the black watch unveil the anthemic indie pop epic ‘Future Strangers’: a glorious album filled with a dream pop psychedelic glow.

The Breakdown

'Future Strangers' is a triumph of pop and sonic splendour: a vast and rich canvas filled with textures and colour, edged with a rough and vulnerable sheen that is both poetic and visceral.
Atom Records 9.0

Los Angeles indie pop icons the black watch are about to release their 21st album ‘Future Strangers’ and it is a testimony as to why this band has become such a veritable institution.

Fronted by constant member John Andrew Frederick (who also is the author of four works of comic fiction and one book of film criticism), the black watch have developed an unique style that recalls a post punk/new wave style of grandeur and atmospheric poise.

‘Future Strangers’ is a glorious collection of eleven pop-inflected jewels that shine with a melancholic tinge. There is an ebb and flow to the album: it never steers a bland path and provides a diverse range of tracks held together by a shimmering poetic thread.

Opening track ‘We Know Nothing’ soars on a smooth flute sound that breathes softly across the rumbling instrumentation in the introduction. Frederick’s pop sensibilities shine through – redolent to me of New Zealand’s The Chills’ Martin Phillips in his vocal delivery with its distant wry observational tone. It is a sparkling beginning with its sprightly step and fuzzy guitars that cut swathes in the sky.

‘Nothing Left to Say’ is an ambulatory faster paced track that positively jangles its way onto your head. The vocals carry an indelible melody – an euphoric chorus that positively soars and guitars that sing out a refrain.

‘The Neverland of Spoken Things’ is another flowing aquatic pop delight with a stunning imperial trumpet refrain that plays off a fuzzy guitar and alternative female vocals that combine and flow with the main vocals. It’s a shoegaze attack of sound that is thick and satisfying.

‘Dani’ has a more visceral layered sound that is organic with Frederick’s vocals naked and exposed, while ‘Wish I Had Something’ has a raw percussive beat that pulsates with the bass. A rich melody has hints of British goth flavours, recalling The Mission or The Cult with a liquid instrumentation that is mesmerising and hypnotic.

At the mid point, the title track is bold and statuesque, a celestial anthem that is moving with a dream pop shoegaze blush and an element of psychedelia that recalls the Brian Jonestown Massacre in its hazy fugue and chemically induced blur. The album seems to shrug of this fugue with ‘The Poison Flower’ a high stepping sixties-infused pop trot with peppy backing vocals and wry self-deprecating lyrics about the dizzying effects of love. A twelve-string jangle removes the ceiling.

‘Off You Go Redux!’ keeps the pulse racing with its sardonic lyrical nod to Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson and ‘They May Be Gray’ has a wall of fuzzy, jangly guitars and a sonic thud with distant vocals and has the genetic influence of MBV or Lush with the wall of sound and atmospheric drone.

‘In My Head’ portends the end of the album with a more reflective sonic flow – delightful harmonies soar over a recurring guitar refrain and a wash of sound.

The album ends with the beautiful ‘Julie 3’ – floating on a bend of shimmering acoustic guitars and sweeping strings, this is a raw and sparse dedication to a muse: Frederick’s voice naked, emotive and raw, filled with emotion and vulnerability. A perfect ending, leaving us with a quiet anthemic and majestic resolution to the album.

‘Future Strangers’ is a triumph of pop and sonic splendour: a vast and rich canvas filled with textures and colour, edged with a rough and vulnerable sheen that is both poetic and visceral. It really does remind me of a very antipodean strand of music – emanating from the Dunedin/Flying Nun sounds of The Chills and The Bats with an undercurrent of The Go-Betweens and The Apartments – with a touch of a very British new wave post punk element. And yet the black watch has its own distinct west coast US sound too that threads throughout this album – that subtle blend of psychedelia and indie rock bleached by the hot sun and bright blue skies.

Officially out on Friday, 24 March 2023 the album out through Atom Records and is available to access through the link below.

Appearing on the album are:

John Andrew Fredrick–guitars, bass, percussion, vocals

Andy Creighton–guitars, bass, drums. Misha Bullock–drums

Rob Campanella–guitar, mellotron. Andy Campanella–drums

Kip Boardman—bass. Lindsay Murray–backing vocals

Ben Eshbach–string arrangements

Frederick says of the album:

Andy Creighton and Rob Campanella, in producing and playing and engineering separately here, discovered with me where the latest batch of songs could go. They understand, I think, that I am fully conscious, if not self-conscious, about trying to make songs and albums that are reactions against what we have done before.  Taking into consideration both of their substantial resumes and adventurous spirits, they’re kinda like bandmates who constantly question the songs–if that makes sense.  And then I question their questionings. I really do make albums that I would buy if I weren’t me.

Fredrick is a bit of a polymath. He got a Ph.D. in English because he loved reading – not because he wanted to be a academic.  He says most of his friends aren’t musicians; he met them on tennis courts or went to grad school with them.  He has published four novels and a book on Wes Anderson.  He’s written all the songs on twenty-one albums–and he’s not done yet. He became an abstract painter late in life and he considers himself a late bloomer.  He’s seen quite a few bandmates come and go; he’d like to think he’s friends with all of them but that’s probably wishful thinking.

Previous EP Review: Melbourne's Badinage unveil the ethereal EP 'Meander': a rich and vivid world without words to explore.
Next Live Gallery: Bikini Kill at the Sydney Opera House 13.03.2023

No Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.