The great thing about revisiting albums years later – especially ones that not everyone is talking about – is that you hear them differently and pick up new wavelengths. It’s almost ten years since Beachwood Sparks released their eponymous album, and while I still enjoy it I’m able to discover other subtleties in the music beyond the major touchstones I identified the first time around. From legacy bands like the Grateful Dead to more recent purveyors Apples In Stereo, it’s all about texture.
Here’s what I wrote for Cosmik Debris back in 2000…
Gram Parsons described his style as “Cosmic American Music”, and I suppose that if he were around to hear Beachwood Sparks, he’d let the quartet on his bus without a second thought.
A quick look at the graphics and titles would have you trot out Buffalo Springfield or The Flying Burrito Brothers as a touchstone, but the production and arrangements owe as much to inventive popmeisters like Brian Wilson and Mitch Easter. In fact, I imagine that if Easter or master knob-twiddler Brad Jones were sent back in time to produce Parsons, this would be the result. Except “Something I Don’t Recognize”, where he would need the Nesmith-led Monkees. Or “Old Sea Miner”, where only XTC would do.
Aw hell, Parsons would have gotten around, he was that kind of guy. And the fact that Beachwood Sparks pulls all of this off without painting themselves into a corner is a hell of a compliment.
The overall sound is psychedelic, dreamy introspection, with interludes like “Singing Butterfly” leading into more uptempo Byrds/Poco moments like “Sister Rose”. Of course, just when you’re safely in that mood, they toss in an aggressive fuzzbox guitar solo over a go-go beat just to throw you for a loop. “See On Three” recalls Wilco’s experimentation, but the dizzying signature changes are probably even outside of Tweedy’s methods.
“This Is What It Feels Like” is another time-travel song, sounding like a pop track that somehow leaked into the future from 1967 California. “The Reminder” eerily and beautifully recalls the innocence of Neil Young’s first records with its delicate guitar and lilting vocals. Individually, these are wonderfully realized moments; as an album, it’s a mental watercolor painting that will dance with your imagination.
I had mixed feelings about their follow-up album, but I love the debut as much today as I did ten years ago. So if you haven’t savored this one yet, please do. And keep your eyes open – supposedly they will release a new album soon (it’s been an eight year drought!)
Beachwood Sparks on Amazon.
Beachwood Sparks on MySpace