For years I’ve wondered why the heck John Andrew Frederick’s indie rock collective, the black watch, has not enjoyed even the cult-like status of kindred spirit bands like the Chameleons, the Comsat Angels, the June Brides or the Stone Roses. AND THEN, I watched America’s Got Talent this week and I figured it out (apologies in advance to fans of this band, this premiere is about to take a brief detour).
The June 4 episode of AGT was packed with some of the best singing, danger, dancing, and comedy acts the show has ever seen – and yet – the golden buzzer went to a half-baked karaoke performance from a really handsome All American guy who looked like he just jumped on stage as a lark. Joseph Allen had a megawatt smile and was charming as hell, but couldn’t sing or rap better than any average person at an open mic, let alone the world’s biggest talent show. But since he had a lot of family and friends in the audience, the judges acted like he was the second coming of Drake, and perhaps he was. The judges seemed to want to impress Allen more than he seemed to care about impressing them. He appeared to know he was going to get the golden buzzer before he even sang. Perhaps he felt entitled to it, because, well, he’s big man on campus. Meanwhile, Benicio Bryant, who could be the second coming of Harry Styles, Prince, Michael Jackson, and/or Terrence Trent Darby in terms of a one of a kind voice, an air of mystery, and a truly original look, was instantly forgotten.
What does all this have to do with the black watch? Well, plenty. For some three odd decades they’ve delivered packs of epic tracks across stacks of crackling wax, and yet, for the most part, crickets. Talent? Quality? The masses are having none of that. Celebrity president versus a qualified leader? Lock him in! Lo-fi audio with commercial breaks streaming versus uninterrupted pristine CD sound? Sure, why not. For the black watch, rejection from the masses despite loads of critical adoration serves only as a validation of their greatness.
So it makes sense that at this stage in his rock career, Frederick gets both ‘Mad’ and even. On June 21, his longtime label, ATOM Records, drops not only a new black watch album, Magic Johnson, but also three career-spanning compilations:
“31 Years of Obscurity: The Best of the black watch: 1988-2019” — a single disc compilation (also digital and streaming) — perhaps the best title for a hits compilation since Comatose-Non-Reaction, the Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax.
“The Vinyl Years: 1988-1993” — rare music re-Issued (CD, digital, streaming)
The Completed Works: 1988-2019 — Every song the black watch ever released available (only on a limited edition USB thumb drive)
Popdose is proud to premiere a new single from Magic Johnson, ‘Mad’:
“ATOM Records is emptying the vaults of all of our recorded work (17 albums, 5 EP’s, a handful of 7″ singles) in order to get the indie world ready for more fuzz-jangle gems by the black watch,” Frederick told Popdose. “This isn’t the end of the band by a long chalk, but a restock–for the next 30 years of putative non-obscurity!”
While we had Frederick’s attention – beyond the band, he’s also an author and professor – we asked him a burning question – what’s in a name? We always thought the black watch (with its no capitals aesthetic) sounded like some shadow resistance organization. “the black watch is named after the Scottish regiment of warriors and bagpipers on account of I myself am mostly Scottish, plus Irish and English,” he said. “As a child, I was both musical and obsessed with the British army. As a child, mind you. Totally anti-war with all my heart NOW.”
So there ya go. Buy some albums by the black watch and have yourself a stellar time, all while supporting the mainstream pop resistance. If mankind is still around in 31 years, here’s to their 17 next albums. Fame, celebrity, and other trappings be damned. But let’s admit it, some of that Drake cash would be nice.
Magic Johnson by the black watch is out June 21 on ATOM Records.
In the featured photo above, pictured L to R, the black watch: Andy Creighton (no relation to this post’s author), John Andrew Fredrick, Chris Rackard, Rick Woodard. Photo by Tony Pinto.