Sunday, 6 January 2013

"The Tarnished Gold" - Beachwood Sparks

The first post on this blog so I thought I would kick it off with my favourite album of 2012.

I can’t really say that I keep up much nowadays with contemporary musical events. I kind of lost some of the intensity of my mammoth rock obsession towards the end of the 90s in the post Britpop gloom of Radiohead’s “OK Computer” or the Verve’s “Urban Hymns” and I'm afraid to say nothing much has really intrigued me since. However last year I heard an album that for me ranks as one of the best musical offerings of the last few decades. An absolute stunner of an album almost seemingly designed to go straight to the core of my slightly dazed psychedelic pure pop heart.

“The Tarnished Gold” is that album and it's by a band called Beachwood Sparks.

Beachwood Sparks are singer / guitarist Chris Gunst, singer / bassist Brent Rademaker, singer  / multi-instrumentalist Farmer Dave Scher, and drummer Aaron Sperske. They are  also helped out by Ben Knight (The Tyde).

“The Tarnished Gold” is the album the Byrds could have recorded after “Notorious Byrd Brothers” and before “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”.  In an alternative reality in another part of the multiverse they probably did. It’s that good. And here it is beamed to us through a crack in the multi-dimensional matrix via Beachwood Sparks.

I really cannot understand why I didn’t see it on more top ten album lists of 2012.

Like the best of the Byrds’ mid 60s oeuvre the whole album seems to float in summer heat haze. Shimmering rickenbackers and glistening pedal steel guitars glide around monolithic harmonies and everything   s-l-o-w-s      d – o – w - n …    The air is thick, listen to the waves, the past is resonating and you are not quite sure when you are...

It's one of those wonderful old-fashioned albums where the sum is greater than the parts and it is therefore best experienced as a whole rather than as YouTube clips or individual mp3 song downloads. It is perfect California psychedelic beach music and you need to give up the time to go where it wants to take you.

So I’m not going to recommend any particular songs or analyse it like some kind of rock critic and if you want the Beachwood Sparks story you can check it out elsewhere. I will just recommend that you listen to the first 3 tracks. If you are not sold on the sheer sonic brilliance of the album’s trio of introductory songs Forget The Song > Sparks Fly Again > Mollusk then no words I may employ will convince you.

The band had made 2 albums previously and then split up for a while. Compared to those early albums this is a far more mature work. The standard of the song writing is much improved and remains consistently high throughout the album (and comparable with that of their influences). There is an occasional oddity ("No Queremos Oro") but that just makes it even more Byrdsian in the tradition of 2-4-2-Foxtrot or Oh Susannah.

You may hear a bunch of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Neil Young, CSNY and Gram Parsons influences in all of this but for me none of those people (still living) have made anything this good since their heyday. These guys are good in their own right but working with those influences they take Cosmic American Music a way further down the road.

So if you think The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers is one of the best albums ever made check this out. You won’t be disappointed. It exists in the same somewhat ethereal head space and is an album you could put on after it to maintain the mood and even, I would say, much of the quality.

Beachwood Sparks. Even the name is perfect.

Official site

Watch them live on this 38 minute video from KCRW. The harmonies are just a little bit more rickety than they are on disc but it gives you an idea. So sit back and...



Summer 68

Summer 68

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