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The Black Watch: Very Mary Beth

Jason MacNeil

The Black Watch

Very Mary Beth

Label: Stonegarden
US Release Date: 2003-05-01

Following up last year's Jiggery-Pokery, the Black Watch are the type of band fans of My Bloody Valentine listen to while endlessly waiting for Kevin Shields to leave Primal Scream and do his own thing. The band, which lost J'anna Jacoby last year, is coming at this new project with more enthusiasm than previous releases. "We have more fun as a band than anybody," lead singer and founder John Andrew Fredrick says in the press kit. "Of course, every one of us is dead serious about the band." The Black Watch's latest album is not a gigantic step for the band, but is a great album nonetheless.

"All These Shivers" instantly evokes the Cure during any of its trilogy albums, especially Bloodflowers. The lyrics speak about cutting a hand and the end result, and Fredrick gives a good performance on the mainly acoustic pop-oriented tune. "You could make me a believer if you'd understand" goes the line in a manner Neil Young wouldn't abhor. A psychedelic bridge rears its joyous head before heading back to original territory. Guitarists and supporting vocals by Scott Taylor and Tim Boland round out the track. "Mary Beth" sounds contemporary but, again, the initial feeling is of the Cure or even the Psychedelic Furs. "I wanna take you down", Fredrick sings before the dreamy and lush guitars weave their magic. Fredrick sings in a vein that might remind some of Ian Curtis, Joy Division's late lead singer.

"There Must Be Something Wrong" is a rock/pop tune that soars from the start. Here the guitars recall Echo and the Bunnymen as they wind over and then into each other. "There must be something wrong with me if I'm in love with", Fredrick sings before cutting the "you" from the line. "Beautiful" takes the sharpness of the album's structure, opting for more of a pop groove that works for the most part despite the campfire-like clapping along and "hey heys" throughout. "Bitter Getting Better" sounds timeless and is straight from the mid-'80s; it would fit right in on the soundtrack to Pretty in Pink, bouncy without being overtly radio-friendly. The breakup of Jacoby and Fredrick might be fodder for this song, but thankfully it's not as caustic as Damon Albarn's breakup track on Blur's 13 album, "No Distance Left to Run".

"Floating", beginning with a Middle Eastern and Beatles psychedelic flow, is more of a slow-building anthem. While the song never quite lives up to initial expectations, the Black Watch add enough effects and layers to keep it on the right track. "That's Just How It Went This Time Around" recalls Nick Drake or an extremely fragile Syd Barrett. The production and pure pop polish and smarts are abundant on this record, and this tune is no different. The organ effects only heighten the Doors-y atmosphere within. "Kick" reverts to earlier songs with a dream-pop landscape that is rich and lyrically insightful. While Fredrick sounds a tad weary on the song, his presence and the backing harmonies are never in doubt.

"Kensington Gardens" is a softer and melancholic jaunt down memory lane. The Robert Smith-like form of simple details is what makes this track perhaps the best of the lot here. Perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon in the fall. "The Tug Attraction" is another softer Odds-like tune that has quirky lyrics that fit perfectly for quirky flirting situations. "With a smile as wide as any copper penny moon / It doesn't take Einstein to see / You must be introduced to me", Fredrick sings before the guitars go into a brief and subtle wall of noise. And last but certainly not least, "Magic Shoes" is a great closer, mixing the softer side of the band with the happy melancholy they seem to revel in. Thankfully, listeners should revel in it just as much.

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