Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#735 in the Series) is Beachwood Sparks, The Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop)
I have to confess, Beachwood Sparks were a new name to me but it turns out they’ve actually been around before and that this is a bit of a comeback album for them. About ten years ago they released 2 albums and an EP then went their separate ways, now they have returned in fine fine style, with one of the albums of the year so far.
Musically we’re firmly in the territory frequented by the likes of The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, the late 60’s/ early 70’s vibe but there’s also a distinct hint of later British bands like Slowdive and Ride on some tracks. Sunshine shoegazing anyone?
Some reviewers have mentioned that maybe the time just wasn’t right for their earlier stuff and now that the likes of Fleet Foxes have come along they have more chance of success. Having had a listen to the first two albums I’m not sure I entirely agree. The reason this one will gain acceptance is because the material is just so much better than before, if you have good enough songs, you make your own times. And believe me, they have good enough songs now…………….
The whole album has a similar feel running throughout, it’s very laid back, in no hurry to get where’s it’s going, a good thing in my book because this is a treat you can kick back to and savour in leisurely style.
Mostly it washes over you in a kind of glorious technicolour haze, a musical fog which wraps gently round everything in its path. Broad sweeps of acoustic guitars, pedal steel, piano, banjo…..it’s a wonderfully constructed soundscape.
Vocals, for the most part, are slightly buried in the mix, rather than a stand-out feature. A wise decision, they become part of the whole picture, completing it. There are some, many, wonderful harmonies on the go as well.
Early highlights include “Sparks Fly Again”, a charming country shuffle about the bands reunion and love of the music they create together, and title track “The Tarnished Gold”, surely a metaphor for life itself and those times when something (love?) goes wrong and you get hurt but you realize deep down that it was all worthwhile and you’re still happy to be here enjoying life.
It’s been sequenced well this one, the overall feel of the album laid out early, a smoothed out blissful sound with no rough edges, never bland though.
As such “Talk About Lonesome” comes in at the perfect time, it’s a relatively straight ahead track (in this context), that could have slotted easily into one of Gram Parsons solo albums. A lovely song.
It’s followed by two tracks (“Leave That Light On” and “Nature’s Light”) which (for me) don’t lend much to proceedings, decent but not essential.
We’re back on track almost immediately, fortunately, with “No Queremos Oro”, which I totally love, the sound of a stoned, mellowed out Mariachi band which even comes with its own built in translation, or am I just hearing the voices in my head again?
From here they never put a foot wrong and the journey to the end is sublime.
“Earl Jean” may well be the best track on here, channeling the pure spirit of The Byrds when the guitar playing genius/legend Clarence Whyte was in the band. It’s an amazing tune, glistening guitar snaking throughout, kicking off into a sprightly stomp after 2 minutes, a glorious galaxy of sound which is curtailed too soon for my liking.
“The Orange Grass Special,” again a traditional(ish) turn from the norm albeit with the Sparks twist of originality thrown in. And finally, appropriately, “Goodbye” quite the most sublime kiss off you’ll hear on any album, this or any other year.
Now, if you’d asked me to venture a guess as to just who’d make the Album Of The Year for 2012 I’d have probably went for Band Of Horses or maybe The Felice Brothers, artists I love who’ve made near classic albums lately. Beachwood Sparks have sped to the very front of that race however with this surprise contender which has come out of nowhere, it’s a real delight, a joy which gets better with every listen.
- “Forget the Song”
- “Sparks Fly Again”
- “Tarnished Gold”
- “Water from the Well”
- “Talk About Lonesome”
- “Leave That Light On”
- “Nature’s Light”
- “No Queremos Oro”
- “Earl Jean”
- “Alone Together”
- “The Orange Grass Special”
Listen to a few cuts below.
Here a cool live thing.
Here’s an interview that is interesting as well.