BY MICHAEL TOLAND
It’s tiresome to constantly harp on the fact that The Black Watch (the Los Angeles guitar pop band, not the Scottish infantry battalion) doesn’t have nearly the cult following it deserves, but there it is: the consistent quality of lit professor John Andrew Frederick’s long-running outfit (25 years!) should have gained it at least the same status as, say, the House of Love. Fear not, gentle music nerds – The End of When provides the perfect chance to catch up now and slap your forehead later.
The LP opens with a one-two punch most records should envy. “I Don’t Feel the Same” jangles with one of Frederick’s catchiest melodies, its straightforward tunesmithery cannily disturbed by guitarist Steven Schayer’s fuzz-engulfed chaos. “Meg” is even better, deliberately evoking the tones of the 80s Britpop that’s a key touchstone for TBW, with a one-word shout-a-long chorus to boot. They’re easily two of the group’s strongest songs in its long history, channeling Frederick’s trademark romantic frustration into ridiculously accessible music.
If the rest of the record doesn’t quite hit those peaks, that doesn’t mean the quality slips by any measure. The dreamy states of mind flowing through “”Unlistening” (written and sung by Schayer) and “Always Honey” belie the nervous energy that drives the band’s rockers. A crystalline shimmer makes the midtempo “Of Lovely Surprises” sparkle, while a gently sexy groove gives the similarly wispy “Hardly Nothing Never Ending” a sensual kick. “The Spare Side” bounces atop a sprightly melody with one foot in the Beatles and the other in early Bacharach, while the title track proffers more of the Watch’s instantly appealing trademark jangle. The record hits a new peak with the two-part “A Pleasing Dream/That’s You and Me All Over,” which combines TBW’s dreamy and rocking sides for a brilliant capsule of everything that makes the band great.
As a further enticement, the record comes with a second disk comprising a self-chosen best-of. Longtime diehards might quibble with the selection (we’d argue there are a few too many tunes from its most recent LP Led Zeppelin Five and not enough from The Hypnotizing Sea, plus Icing the Snow Queen isn’t represented at all), but the inclusion of such TBW essentials as “Tear the Sky,” “Like in the Movies” and “The Tennis Playing Poet Roethke Said” makes disk 2 a solid introduction to the band’s catalog. Combine that bonus with a sterling set of new songs on the main LP and you have one of The Black Watch’s very best records.
DOWNLOAD: “Meg,” “I Don’t Feel the Same,” “A Pleasing Dream/That’s You and Me All Over”