PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

The Black Watch Make 'Magic Johnson' the King of America

Many of the songs on the Black Watch's Magic Johnson explicitly deal with the trope of insanity, a staple of late '60s / early '70s music that declared that the only sane response to living in an insane world was to be crazy.

Magic Johnson
The Black Watch

Atom Records

21 Jun 2019

Other

California's the Black Watch has existed as a rock outfit since the late '80s with various lineups and on a maze of labels. The one constant has been at the core: writer and English professor John Andrew Fredrick.

As one might expect from a doctor of literature, Frederick has an ear for catchy lines and hidden meanings. Frederick also has a thing for the sound of electric guitars. However, the poetry of his compositions lies more in his fret work and the styles with how he hits the strings than with his lyrics. He follows in the tradition of classic rock. The music recalls the sounds of past semi-psychedelic glories filtered to the present tense.

So it's no wonder that many of the songs on Magic Johnson explicitly deal with the trope of insanity, a staple of late '60s / early '70s music that overtly declared that the only sane response to living in an insane world was to be crazy. The Doors, the Who, David Bowie, etc. all riffed on this theme as a way of engaging with a society that left them feeling alienated and alone.

For Frederick, being nuts means everything from being madly in love to believing in illusions more than reality on tracks such as "Mad", "April Fools", and "Eustacia's Dream". More importantly, the subject matter encourages him to take wild, enthusiastic approaches to his playing. He's not a shredder so much as someone who passionately follows where his lead guitar takes him.

There's an enthusiasm to his playing that suggests once he has found a cool-sounding line, he's not going to let it go until he wrings every drop of joy out of it, which befits his lyrical absurdity. Even on the more acoustic cuts, such as "Arcane Constraints", where he declares the importance of rhyme over reason, Frederick lets the sound of the instruments drown out the words to express his feelings. The constraints of which he sings are about the limitations of language in our efforts to communicate.

Frederick sings lead vocals in a somewhat anglicized accent reminiscent of the Rolling Stones in the mid-'60s (think Aftermath or December's Children). This adds a formal feeling to the proceedings. There is no out of control shouting despite the somewhat tempestuous concerns. Even when he sings about "laughing like a madman", he does so in a restrained manner.

Frederick provides all the vocals as best as one can tell. The rest of the band (Rick Woodard, drums; Chris Rackard, bass; Andy Creighton, guitar) back him up instrumentally, but keep their mouths shut.

The title song is a one-minute and 15-second tribute to basketball's "Magic Johnson" that is redolent of The Beatles' "Her Majesty". The goofy sincerity gives it charm. In America, where sport is king, maybe Johnson is the version of an outdated royal that still retains ceremonial nobility. Whatever. Its inclusion here—and its choice as the song from which the album gets its name—suggests that Frederick understands the importance of not being too earnest.

The 12 tracks here (and the inclusion of the EP "Paper Boats" that was initially released last year on this album) reveal that Frederick still finds music more than just a game after all these years, even if might be crazy to continue to pursue the muse.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.