Beachwood Sparks “The Tarnished Gold” (Sub Pop)
Spurred on by a 2008 reunion at Sub Pop Records' 20th anniversary celebration, Beachwood Sparks make things more permanent with “The Tarnished Gold,” the psychedelic country-rock band's first album in 11 years. The most obvious evolution since 2001's “Once We Were Trees” is that the band's songwriting and performances are less idiosyncratic but far stronger. While singer Chris Gunst's vocals were formerly a love-or-hate proposition, the band perfectly executes these AM radio slide-guitar ballads on an album that improves on “Once We Were Trees” on every level.
Guitarist Dave Scher's impeccable lap-steel work sets the sunny tone on the opening ballad “Forget the Song” and powers the self-referential uptempo track “Sparks Fly Again.” Occasionally, the more aggressive psych-pop stance Scher and drummer Jimi Hey took with All Night Radio, their post-Beachwood Sparks project, comes out on meditative space-rock anthems such as “Mollusk” and “Leave That Light On,” but most of “The Tarnished Gold” has a firm foundation in the California country-rock pioneered by Gram Parsons.
While Beachwood Sparks once sounded like a left-field throwback, the success of freak-folk bands such as Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses in the intervening years created a safe harbor for “The Tarnished Gold” — the campfire jamboree bluegrass of “The Orange Grass Special” and Southern rock redux on “Earl Jean” make perfect sense these days. Also, after Beachwood Sparks' honey-toned 2001 cover of Sade's “By Your Side” earned a second life on the “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” soundtrack, it reminded a lot of people of this band's unusual, off-kilter beauty, and “The Tarnished Gold” is more than merely a worthy successor.
— George Lang