Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold

Beautiful, hazy country-pop.

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Timing is everything. When Beachwood Sparks first emerged at the beginning of the last decade, their brand of dualistic throwback pop – part trad. country, part ‘60s wooze-rock – was perhaps a little too good-natured for a scene that craved the self-conscious deconstruction of all those big indie bands no-one really cares about anymore.

But, after a decade away (presumably in space or something), this merry band of psychedelic country cowboys have reunited for their third album, and it all seems to make a little more sense this time around. In the wake of “Retromania”, the folk revival on both sides of the pond and a healthy dose of high-profile harmony groups, ‘The Tarnished Gold’ seems to fit right in.

It’s tempting to say that nothing much has changed – slide guitars, whistling Hammond organs and dreamy atmospherics lap over one another like they always have – but there’s a new-found sense of urgency to much of the material. Where the band used to be content with a melody idea and a long runtime, these are far more structured affairs, pushed hastily along by more prominent percussion. What results is beautiful, hazy country-pop, like Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips crash-landed on a prairie somewhere.

‘Sparks Fly Again’, pitched somewhere between The Allman Brothers and a Philip Glass movement, rushes along like the Kentucky Derby viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, ‘Water From The Well’ takes a somnambulant stroll through the idea of an anthem and ’The Orange Grass Special’ abandons the theremin-like background tones of most of the album and takes a wonky punt at early, upbeat Johnny Cash rollicks.

It would be unfair to say that Beachwood Sparks have dumbed-down for wider appeal – this is still a band that, in ‘No Queremos Oro’, sing what amounts to a cosmic mariachi – but there’s no doubt that they’ve taken cues from a scene that may well once have done much the same from them. ‘The Tarnished Gold’ is a tighter, more familiar album from a band that have always done their own thing, and it’s a very well-worked compromise – this is fantastic stuff.
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