Beachwood Sparks returns with the beautiful 'Tarnished Gold'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Buried in the inbox one day a few months ago was a curious note from Sub Pop, proclaiming a new download available from an album coming in the summer, a tune called “Forget the Song” by Beachwood Sparks.
I almost couldn’t believe what I’d read. Beachwood Sparks? They’re back?
They are indeed. After a decade-long absence, the Los Angeles band has returned with a new record, The Tarnished Gold, a work that feels a long time coming.
I first discovered Beachwood Sparks in the fall of 2001, which you may remember as an awful, confusing time in this country. In late September, I went to Providence to take in the Black Crowes, where a scraggly group from L.A. was opening up.
I’d never heard of them, but they were just about to release their second LP, By Your Side, and that night they played a set of sweet, rolling country, the likes of which would’ve made Gram Parsons tap his foot and nod approvingly.
“We’d like to thank our crew, for helping us get our van back on the road,” guitarist Christopher Gunst told the crowd with a grin. “We almost didn’t make it today.”
So, they had a sense of humor, too. I was hooked immediately.
Their first two records, and later their 2002 EP, Make the Cowboy Robots Cry, were trusty friends as I made my way through the early years of college. They served as a trusty study companion, but more importantly, they represented a sound that seemed, then as much as now, to have disappeared with the dissolution of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Without being pure country or pure rock and roll, and without lulling more discerning listeners to sleep (the Eagles), they infused these catchy melodies with a sense of purpose, underwritten by those sweet voices.
And then, they were gone. Just as their natural comperables in Ryan Adams, Wilco and company were finally reaching the public consciousness, Beachwood Sparks seemed to disappear.
The band went on hiatus, the type of which seemed more like a permanent breakup than an excuse to explore side projects. Just as quietly as they had seeped into my life, they were gone, leaving the ghost of their three records as proof of this amazing band.
All this made the news of a new album, seemingly out of nowhere, such a joy. Thankfully, The Tarnished Gold is as worthy an entry to their mythic catalog as anything that preceded.
The sounds of that first single and the leadoff track, “Forget the Song,” declare as much immediately. While the singer declares that, “those days are gone,” it’s apparent enough that Beachwood Sparks picked up where they left off in 2002. While many bands wouldn’t be served by such an approach after a long layoff, Beachwood Sparks always benefitted from employing a sound that feels timeless. This record, or any of their albums, would feel just as right in 1970 as they would now. They’re not bound by trends or time, they exist parallel to it.
That thread of renewal and return runs through most of The Tarnished Gold. The weary soul of “Tarnished Gold” sings of laying down and taking in what’s left after a long journey. The slow, sweeping nature of “Leave That Light On” recalls Neil Young in all his Laurel Canyon glory. It’s in no hurry, and it gets where it needs to go immediately.
On “Earl Jean,” another happy couplet underpins the melancholy hidden within, driving a song atop another catchy tune:
“I love a happy ending / It’s lonely where you’re standing.”
It’s another great moment on an excellent album. Beachwood Sparks, seemingly destined for footnote status in the annals of rock and roll, have quietly and confidently returned to make more music.
And I love a happy ending, too. Welcome back, old friends. It’s been far too long.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org