Review: Beachwood Sparks’ The Tarnished Gold

Beachwood Sparks: The Tarnished GoldBeachwood Sparks: The Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop, 6/26/12)

“Forget the Song”

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Beachwood Sparks was at once a throwback and, from a 2012 perspective, ahead of the wave. In the early aughties, the band of former college-radio chums single-handedly revived a laidback, country-rocking West Coast sound famously pioneered in the late ’60s by Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers. The band’s spacier second album, Once We Were Trees, flirted with psychedelia. And by 2003, it had said its peace—and it was left to the likes of Fleet Foxes to win over the indie masses with CSNY harmonies and flower-power earnestness in folk-rock 2.0, all territory the Sparks had well under control.

Reignited at a 2008 Sup Pop 20 fest gig, the band has re-launched with the classic lineup at the urge of drummer Aaron Sperske (Ariel Pink, Lilys), one of the surest hands in the retro-rock business. Produced by sonic maestro Thom Monahan, the new album brilliantly references the reunion itself in the band’s familiar mode for “Forget the Song,” in which Chris Gunst (Mystic Chords of Memory) sings, “It’s time to stop pretending; those days are gone,” and in the Byrds-y “Sparks Fly Again,” in which keys man Farmer Dave Scher (who has spent years on the road with Interpol) tells us, “Music is our home to return to.”

With 11 years between albums, the West Coasters are none the worse for wear on The Tarnished Gold. It’s less tied down to an era, less self-consciously stylized, less hazy than much of what the band has done before. Gunst’s tunes like “Leave the Light On” marry FM-radio-worthy hooks with lyrics inspired by the Golden State’s natural beauty. Bassist Brent Rademaker takes us to a haunting place on “Mollusk,” and home-cooked outings such as “The Orange Special” have snappy pedal-steel licks that make them lively bookends. All together, it’s a sun-kissed collection of honest tunes that’s surprisingly relevant — but well lived in.

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