Monday, April 21, 2014

Things I Like: Beachwood Sparks

I hope you had a great Easter. For the foreseeable future, all blog posts (starting with this one) will contain a clue that will add up to an 'Easter egg' for those nerdy enough to put it all together. The clues will make no sense on their own - you'll have to check in on a regular basis and look at them in sequence. Also, don't just look in the body text of any given post. Look in all of the elements, from the headline on down to the comments. The only other clue regarding the clues (the meta-clue, if you will), is that each post's respective clue will always be in the same spot. 

This will be the last mention of this endeavor until someone posts the solution in the comments of this particular post.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program...

If you're like me, you don't find much to rally behind in today's pop music, nor in the deluge of pop music being marketed as 'alternative' or 'indie'. A certain something just seems to be missing in most (if not all) of what you hear on Top 40 radio. As a result, I'm guilty of falling back on oldies of one sort or another, music from a time when songwriting and musicianship meant something.

There comes a point, however, when one must stop living in the past and find that which is vital in our own time. Thus, I concentrate much of my music listening on other avenues, particularly shows like Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW, an NPR station broadcasting out of Santa Monica College. 

If you're also willing to scour the Internet, you can also make some startling discoveries. One such find happened while I was on a website devoted to jam bands, trying to find some contemporary equivalents of the Grateful Dead. I happened upon a review of the then-new Beachwood Sparks reunion album, The Tarnished Gold, and it was like a revelation. From the opening acoustic strum of Forget the Song giving way to swelling keyboards and steel guitar and then to soaring vocal harmonies, it was like a bracing gust of fresh air after being cooped up inside.

While not a Grateful Dead pastiche, they certainly hark back to an era that encompassed what I consider the Dead's golden era, namely from 1969 to 1974. More accurately, they continue the tradition of Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Byrds, as well as the mellow 'country rock' typical of the so-called Laurel Canyon scene of the time.

And although their self-titled debut album from 2000 is awash in Byrdsian 12-string guitars, they are not specifically a nostalgia act. The Tarnished Gold in particular shows a maturity and confidence that comes with experience and craftmanship, and features a sound that is not so easily pinned to their iconic forebears. While the songs therein are great for when you want to drift away on some good vibrations, it is also music that stands up to repeated listening, and offers something new each time around.

In these days of smug sarcasm and ironic detachment, it's refreshing to hear music that comes straight from the heart.