Release Date: Jun 26, 2012
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Hard to believe it's been 10 years since California's Beachwood Sparks released Make The Cowboy Robots Cry, an EP of sprawling cosmic country music that seemed to be their swan song. But following a live reunion at Sub Pop's 20th anniversary party a couple of years back, the classic quartet of Chris Gunst, Brent Rademaker, Farmer Dave Scher and Aaron Sperske got together to record an album that fits neatly into their summery Laurel Canyon canon. Much like on their second album, the theme of preferring the natural world to gold is expressed in songs like No Queremos Oro and Tarnished Gold.
After an extended hiatus that found the individual members of Beachwood Sparks working on various side projects including forming such bands as the Tyde and All Night Radio, the California soft country outfit reunited for 2012's The Tarnished Gold. An elegiac, blissful, and melodic album, The Tarnished Gold finds the '70s-influenced band's sound maturing and deepening, while still retaining much of the melodic, hippie-dippy ramble-rock that makes them so charming. Produced by Thom Monahan -- who handled the band's 2001 outing Once We Were Trees -- the album features the original Beachwood lineup of singer/guitarist Chris Gunst, singer/bassist Brent Rademaker, singer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Scher, and drummer Aaron Sperske.
The LA quartet Beachwood Sparks are a band out of time, in two senses. First, their third album comes the best part of 11 years since their last. Second, their music is so tied to the southern California of the late 60s and early 70s that it's hard not to imagine the songs as outtakes from the Easy Rider soundtrack. Curiously, though, that makes them feel more current than they did first time around: Beachwood Sparks are bathed in same the hazy, tinted nostalgia that powers Tumblr and Instagram.
A new Beachwood Sparks album in 2012 makes as perfect and as little sense as one did 12 years ago. Emerging on Sub Pop in 2000-- just before the label's Shins-assisted second wind-- the L.A. country-rockers may have been an anomaly on their own label, but they were waving the flag for a new cosmic Americana alongside the more revered likes of the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Grandaddy, and Sparklehorse.
The four soft-rocking Californians of Sub Pop’s Beachwood Sparks have been credited with launching, if not quite creating, the early-aughts rise of easy-to-listen-to, easier-to-nap-to, alt-country West Coast crooner rock—the very same variety that artists like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver proceeded to popularize and then polarize. And since the release of 2002’s Make the Cowboy Roots Cry EP, they’ve mostly left it alone. But they haven’t left it behind: A decade later, The Tarnished Gold presents a comforting, if occasionally too comfortable, return to form.
In the 11 years since the indie-country-folk band's last record, things have gotten hazier for Beachwood Sparks. Their sunniness is now deployed with a lighter touch and ample reverb, bringing to mind the humid dog days of August instead of the fireworks of July. Thankfully, the haze suits them..
It has been almost a decade since Beachwood Sparks, the L.A. country-rock group, released anything. The band hit a high note with their second album, Once We Were Trees, released on Sub Pop in 2002, and then followed up the next year with the more difficult EP, Make the Cowboy Robots Cry, before quietly dissolving into various side-projects. But now they’re back with The Tarnished Gold, which resumes as if no time had passed, a fitting statement for a band that recreates the sounds from a bygone era, when psychedelia and country music cross-pollinated at the end of the ‘60s.
Before Fleet Foxes made harmonies hip again, LA's Beachwood Sparks were the relatively unsung heroes of the languid, folksy West Coast cowboy troubadour scene. It was a decade too soon for their Laurel Canyon tributes to chime with the wider public. Now, of course, their first new music in 11 years sounds like a prescription for uncertain times, the evergreen sigh of pedal steel soft against the prang of semi-acoustic, both wistful and resolved.
Beachwood Sparks’ brand of trippy country-rock was ahead of the curve a decade ago, but that style has been so thoroughly co-opted by the current indie scene that, in picking up where they left off, the band no longer sounds the least bit distinctive. To that end, The Tarnished Gold, their first release since 2003’s Make the Cowboy Robots Cry EP, finds Beachwood Sparks still capable of creating a laidback, ambling vibe and of arranging lovely multi-tracked vocal harmonies, but now the band is fighting for space along the crowded Grizzly Bear/Bon Iver/Megafaun axis. Much like 2002’s Once We Were Trees, still Beachwood Sparks’ best album and a fine example of what “alt-country” could have been had it not collapsed under the weight of its own self-seriousness, The Tarnished Gold owes an obvious debt to the SoCal scene of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
On their first go-around, Beachwood Sparks didn’t burn out; they merely faded away. The California group released two and a half albums’ worth of cosmic country, camping out at the intersection of the ‘60s and ‘70s with Gram Parsons as their spirit guide. Subtle experimental flourishes—especially on their swan song Make The Cowboy Robots Cry EP, produced by Jimmy Tamborello no less—made it seem like the Sparks would be able to keep the cosmic caravan humming into the 21st century.
When a band goes on “hiatus” and then goes ghost for ten years without a peep, it’s usually assumed that that gap isn’t going to end anytime soon. That said, there’s always an exception to the rule, and LA quartet Beachwood Sparks are back after a nearly 11 year hiatus with The Tarnished Gold. Those worried about the huge amount of time spent apart shouldn’t worry; the spacey country rock here is the type the band’s always worked with, a sort of timeless melodiousness, a breeze that floats from one era to another.
Timing is everything. When Beachwood Sparks first emerged at the beginning of the last decade, their brand of dualistic throwback pop – part trad. country, part ‘60s wooze-rock – was perhaps a little too good-natured for a scene that craved the self-conscious deconstruction of all those big indie bands no-one really cares about anymore.But, after a decade away (presumably in space or something), this merry band of psychedelic country cowboys have reunited for their third album, and it all seems to make a little more sense this time around.
Sub Pop's freshman class of new millennial pop, led by Beachwood Sparks and the Shins' Oh, Inverted World, rebooted Seattle's grunge imprint as a post-9/11 salve. The former L.A. quartet's Sweetheart of the Rodeo ride peaked on its second of two initial albums, 2001's Once We Were Trees, but on Tarnished Gold, the Beachwood Sparks' reunion drowns in a bog of bad production and lesser material.