It’s that silly time of year when we ascribe arbitrary rankings to the music created by our favorite artists. And, I’ve already seen a few lists from the likes of Paste or Rolling Stone (among others) that I find completely off the mark. Now, our ATH End of Year list will be a team effort, so here is a list of records I adored that probably won’t end up on too many other “Best of Lists,” though I think they should! Again, no particular order, just ten albums you should enjoy. …that you might have forgotten about.
Before there were blogs and music streaming there was the Black Watch. Now, 15 albums into their career, the band have crafted what I’m going to say is their best work yet. Each time I play it, I’m struck by something that has me scrambling to press repeat, to tune into a note or an element I didn’t hear the first run though, even now as I speak, I’m doing just that. If you’re a fan of pop music and poetry, stream The Gospel According to John. And if you want my two-cents on the track by track breakdown, skip beyond the jump. Otherwise, pick up the album tomorrow courtesy of The Eskimo Record Label and Pop Culture Press.
I’m trying to think of another band, let alone an individual, who’ve been as prolific as The Black Watch. They’re readying yet another LP, and with that comes the single cycle with another great hit. I’ve tried really hard to put into words how much the band’s music has meant to me, but I think the only words I can manage are to say that the band still don’t seem to have hit their peak, in regards to songwriting. This tune is filled with delightful noise, but carries a soft underbelly that allows melody to unfold at the bottom of the mix. From the jangling guitars turning over one another to the shattering percussion, it all culminates in a blissful song stretching over 5 minutes. The Gospel According to John hits on April 21st.
One of the band’s that never seems to stop recording and writing is The Black Watch. I couldn’t even tell you how many albums they have, but in each way, they all have something special to offer listeners. They’ve just offered up this stupendous new tune and video, which features frontman John Andrew Frederick traipsing about in the UK. On this tune, while I love the ring of the guitar, I’m really in love with the chorus. Frederick has great vocal control here, letting his voice melodically smooth out the edges as he hits each note. If you’ve yet to get into the band, then perhaps this is a great place to start, offering visuals and a song that will last in your mind throughout the rest of this week.
We’re nearing the release of Highs and Lows by the Black Watch, which means it’s time to share a new single from the long-running act. This is our second taste of what’s to come, and I’ve been really impressed with what’s coming out. There’s a juxtaposition from the guitar work, at point sounding bright whilst churning out a slight jangle, though it’s contrasted with a darker tone that also lurks throughout. This darkness is reemphasized by John Andrew Frederick’s voice, though he does take on a smooth croon during the chorus. You’re likely to hear slight hints of psychedelia, but that’s one of the great things to appreciate about the band…you’ll love them, but you’ll never be able to define them. Pop Culture Press will have the record out this weekend!
I’ve got the utmost respect for The Black Watch, who’ve been consistently releasing great albums for the last 20 (+) years. They’re constantly playing with varying directions, yet sounding wholly original as lead songwriter J.A. Fredrick ignores all the modern musical trappings. Personally, I think this lead single from their forthcoming Highs & Lows album sounds like one of their best tracks, period. It’s got a great sound coming from the guitars, brimming with really bright chords that ring out perfectly in your ears. The vocals have this deep tone to them, smoothed out in just the right places to make the song an undeniable hit. Pick up the album on December 4th on Pop Culture Press Records.
You know what’s going to make your day a little bit better? You’re going to have to listen to this new track from The Black Watch in order to make that happen. The band are prepping the release of their new LP, Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy; it’s just a year after the most excellent The End of When (you better have that LP!). Listening to this first single, there’s a hint of Bobby Pollard in it, though I still love the crisp twang of the guitar that’s in the background. Pop Culture Press will be releasing the album in late January, but I’ll remind you closer to that date, as this is sure to be another successful long player from the group.
Making our year-end list of Top Albums is never something we take lightly. We realize that it’s rather arbitrary in the grand scheme of things, but we realize that our role is to at least toss out our opinion, however meaningless it may be. In the long run, we had to take the tastes of several people, and whittle it into a list of 50 great albums that we think are vital to your listening experience. We know it’s a matter of personal tastes, but the records below are reflective of our tastes and our site, so don’t get mad, they’re just opinions. But, feel free to tell us where we went wrong, or what we might have missed. If you click on the album titles, you can also read our full reviews of each album, save the ones that we didn’t get to in time. Sorry we don’t like Kanye.
50 – Wampire – Curiosity
49 – Dot Dash – Half Remembered Dream
48 – Mantles – Long Enough to Leave
47 – The Appleseed Cast – Illumination Ritual
46 – Bad Sports – Bras
45 – Part Time – PDA
44 – Dick Diver – Calendar Days
43 – Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Loud
42 – Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
41 – Eat Skull – III
40 – The Lonely Wild – The Sun as It Comes
39 – The Love Language – Ruby Red
38 – Gun Outfit – Hard Coming Down
37 – Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
36 – Daughn Gibson – Me Moan
35 – Andre Obin – The Arsonist
34 – Arp – More
33 – Gap Dream – Shine Your Light
32 – The Black Watch – The End of When
31 – Ty Segall – Sleeper
30 – The Stevens – A History of Hygeine
29 – Of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar
28 – Mirror Travel – Mexico
27 – Local Natives – Hummingbird
26 – Girls Names – The New Life
25 – GRMLN – Empire
24 – Small Black – Limits of Desire
23 – Audacity – Butter Knife
22 – Mikal Cronin – MCII
21 – Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
20 – Foals – Holy Fire
19 – Radical Face – Family Tree: The Branches
18 – Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
17 – Terry Malts – Nobody Realizes This is Nowhere
16 – Shout Out Louds – Optica
15 – Kurt Vile – Waking on a Pretty Daze
14 – Braids – Flourish//Perish
13 – Crystal Antlers – Nothing is Real
12 – Typhoon – White Lighter
11 – Ski Lodge – Big Heart
Admittedly, this album makes nods to folk troubadours of Christmas’ past, but what grabbed me from the moment I heard this record was the sincerity in what’s being created. In leaving us with a stripped down listen of folk tunes and incredible poetry, we’re asked to look into the history of American songwriting tradition; it’s been awhile since it was executed so well.
9 – The Growlers – Hung at Heart
I’d put this album on any list for one song alone, “Someday.” But, it just so happens that the rest of the album maintains the sensation that’s established on the opening track. I’ve heard it referenced as a surf-psych opus, but what’s been assured in my mine is what an incredible listen we’re all be treating to when we put Hung at Heart on our record players.
Hether Fortune seems to scare people. Her work is in your face, never making an excuse for who she is or what she believes. That attitude carries on into her music, allowing listeners to experience a musical world void of any pretense. The songs on this album are angular, dark and abrasive; the vocals have Hether dominating the scene of modern lady rock warriors. If you don’t dig it, she doesn’t care, but I do because this record rules.
While many of the songs on this effort leaked out before under various EPs, the whole masterpiece exists in the way it was tied together as a complete work. It’s operatic and grand at every corner, but it’s also undeniably a pop record. The emphasis might revolve around the more artful spectrum of pop music, but this is an album you can play for everyone in your family, and they’ll all find themselves swept up in the wonderment of Privilege.
What else really needs to be said about The National. They consistently make great albums that are lauded then often overlooked, but we didn’t want to do that to one of our favorite acts. I mean, if they played 8 shows in 8 days, we’d be at every one, and the DJ set after party. Their accolades and recognition are warranted, and it’s especially clear on this, their latest release.
When listening to Pass the Ringo, I thought of one thing: this is the sort of record that makes a small label, like Loglady Records, a household name. It’s spun around garage rock and psych rock structures, whilst still maintaining an accessibility that few people working in that genre achieve. Some albums can play in the background of your house, and might be happy to do so, but Legs created something that made me stop and listen at every turn; I’m thankful for that.
Someone For You came our way in January. On my record player, it hasn’t left since. This is one of the most rewarding power-pop records I’ve gotten my hands on, and trust me, I’ve gotten my hands on a lot of great records. Each song is filled with innate hooks and garage rock grit, encouraging you to tap your toes for the entirety of the record. You’d think after a full year our interest would have waned, but with time we’ve only grown to appreciate the record even more.
At the moment, there’s not too many people releasing music that’s the quality of Mathew Cothran and Coma Cinema. There are elements of the bizarre, similar to the work of early Elf Power, yet there’s this intimacy that artists like Eliott Smith were able to create with their listeners. You wrap that up and put it in a package of pop sensibility, and you have an album that can’t be ignored.
In today’s musical climate, we buy into the fact that artists have to be doing something strange, or something that’s vastly different from their peers. But, in the grand scheme of things, we often forget what it’s like to take enjoyment out of the music. This album was one of the many reminders that music, when it’s good, can be quite special. Every song here is a single, and worth your time; it’s the best thing Laz has done, and I feel like he’s just really getting started.
This album is about Devon Welsh. From the first instant I heard his voice, it took hold of me. Throughout the year, Impersonator, consistently played on my radio. His voice was mesmerizing, captivating audiences on several occasions in Austin, convincing us to be as quiet as a mouse, so as to hear every note. The unique quality of the album will reward listeners for years to follow. It made us believe in great music again.
No matter the line-up or the slight changes in sound, one thing you can always be sure of is that The Black Watch are possibly the most consistent act to ever release music in the underground scene. The band’s latest effort, The End of When, is just another fine example of a group that puts great songwriting at the forefront, leaving you with 11 tracks that will please any music fan.
Like most things, there’s really two sides to the opening track, “Don’t Feel the Same.” It’s bubbling bass line works in step with the delivery of the vocals, providing listeners with an emotional attachment that’s built for singing along. But, the guitar lines are filled with discordant noise that seem to work against the inner design of the track. Somehow, its cohesive and enthralling, sucking you into the record from the get-go. And as you move along, the softer side of the band emerges on the following tune, “Meg.” I don’t know whether it’s the presence of former Chills guitarist Steven Schayer or the band is just this good, but the guitars alone make every second of this song stand out among the band’s peers. The gentle quality of the vocals just serves as a reminder that people don’t make pop music like they once did; my only complaint is that it’s the second shortest song on the record.
After spending the last three days with this record playing every chance I get, it’s getting harder and harder to find a bad track within the confines of what The Black Watch have created. The interplay between guitar and bass on “Oh Oh” is only a precursor to the vocal interplay that comes into the foray later in the song, all leaving you with another gem that you’ll beg to share with your friends. Perhaps you’ll find yourself attracted to the dreamier quality of the vocals on display in “Sum.” The way “again” is drawn out just hits me perfectly every time, as the guitar swirls around each syllable. And then maybe you’re one of those with a soft spot for quiet ballads such as “Unlistening.” It may seem like an outlier in the grand scheme of The End of When, but it’s every bit a song in the vein of the group’s accomplishments, layering loops and strummed strings to encourage the voice.
When you’re finished with the record, you’ll likely come to the same conclusion about this album as I have. There’s nothing better than a release by The Black Watch. Their formula, though it’s changed slightly, has always been pretty simple: write incredible songs. They’ll offer you noise, then follow it up with tune featuring horn enrichment, then turn things back by ringing power-pop guitar work. Sometimes they’ll do it all within one track. They’re brilliant, and The End of When is just a further reminder that there are only two consistently great bands in the world: The Wedding Present and The Black Watch.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/1-02-Meg.mp3]
Download: The Black Watch – Meg [MP3]
The End of When is available now from Pop Culture Press Records.