The Black Watch

Icing the Snow Queen

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Like The Little Engine That Could, Pepé le Pew, and the proverbial mailman, nothing deters John Andrew Fredrick: This is his tenth Black Watch LP in 20 years, not to mention a mini-LP, best-of, and some brave EPs and singles. Since his L.A. foursome almost never tours and thus remains top secret, his motivation to continue making these things can only be that his records are unfailingly of the highest quality -- for those who care about highly erudite, poetic words, finely-hewn guitar-pop concoctions, and unpolished but fitting vocals. Fredrick made records before it was easy; he's still at it because he's itching to express. Icing the Snow Queen is the fifth example this decade alone, and for this one he returns to older raison d’être: twinkling, light-hearted/headed folk-pop. This one's closer to 2002's breezy jewel Jiggery-Pokery, though there's still a more electric, MBV-lite guitar buzz on some quickening indie rockers to show how kittenish the mature cat remains (in the vein of 2006's Bunnymen/Mary Chain-ish Tatterdemalion and 2005's The Hypnotizing Sea). One soaks in the quality songwriting -- even a beaut of a Nick Drake-ish instrumental in "The Jean Rhys Appreciation Society" -- from this bottomless well, with lyrics like catnip for those starved for intelligence in rock (Fredrick's English Ph.D wasn't wasted) and highly-crafted yet unfussy melodies. Hopefully it won't, like the Sound’s Adrian Borland, take Fredrick's death -- as a nonagenarian hence, we hope! -- for greater numbers to discover how good he is.

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