It has been 11 dismal years since Sub Pop’s Beachwood Sparks released their last full-length album, and an awful lot has changed in the dreamy world of alt-country in that time. Long before Fleet Foxes, and when Vetiver was a mere twinkle in Andy Cabic’s eye, Beachwood Sparks were layering wistful harmonies over psychadelic melodies, with the band’s laid-back Californian influence spread during the past decade by its members seemingly lending a pedal steel here, there and everywhere.
As ever, their latest album The Tarnished Gold is music to be played under a blue sky, while the sun glints off your shades and the heat hangs heavy in the air (come on, you’ll just have to use your imagination). There are times when you wonder whether those responsible have been mixing enough tobacco with it – ‘No Queremos Oro’ a particularly bizarre mariachi interlude – but by and large it is the gentleness with which this music comes and goes which makes it such a pleasant listening experience. The title track alone is a beautifully simple meditation of love and death where the instruments seem to yearn below lyrics like: “fell in love with the tarnished gold/that’s what remains when the ashes turn cold/funny how when you find what you’re looking for/it was already there.”
There is a tremendous amount of heritage in these songs. From the Beach Boys-esque chorus of ‘Sparks Fly Again’ to the confessional country lyrics of ‘Talk About Lonesome’, it is an album which blessedly feels that it could have been made at any point in California’s past 40 years, while ‘The Orange Grass Special’ is a more surprising marriage of country twangs echoed by gospel response.
Irrespective of whether the classic lullaby of album closer ‘Goodbye’ should be taken literally or otherwise, The Tarnished Gold is by no means an afterthought. With what I hope is a comeback album and not a final fling, Beachwood Sparks have shown definitively how sun-drenched psychedelia should be done.