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The Black Watch - Future Strangers (ATOM)

23 March 2023

Now thirty-five years into a fruitful career, The Black Watch has reached the point where giving a new record a numerical designation seems pointless. Suffice to say Future Strangers is the latest album from this SoCal guitar pop group, which means students of the style have a new batch of songs from John Andrew Frederick to emulate. The singer/tunesmith can’t seem to help writing good songs, so the rise or fall of a TBW record rests less on his work than the settings in which it finds itself. For Future Strangers, that setting comes a little less polished than on recent LPs, a little looser and rougher around the edges. That’s not to say that TBW suddenly sounds like the Rolling Stones, but the eighties college rock-meets-nineties shoegaze production style the band often swirls within has taken a deliberate hit. That allows an intimate immediacy to ground pop gems like “The Poison Flower” and “Nothing Left to Say,” the moodiness of “They May Be Grey” to be offset by distorted choogle, and the groove of “Wish I Had Something” to edge its way to the fore. The rawer production also encourages “The Neverland of Spoken Things” and “Off You Go Redux!” to become the loudest and grungiest rock & roll the band has produced yet. It’s hardly a radical shift in musical philosophy, but it’s enough to give Future Strangers an extra punch that puts a new spin on the standard twirl.