Beachwood Sparks – Desert Skies


There are two iron laws of rock music. The first is that any band which has broken up but where at least a majority of its members are still standing will eventually get back together again. The Eagles. The Police. The Stone Roses. The Smiths think they’re an exception, but they’ll succumb. The second is that any lost album will never remain lost forever, unless the artist knows it’s a real stinker. Smile was eventually finished, of course, because it’s a true classic. Patty Griffin’s Silver Bell was released only a few weeks ago because it’s well worth it. David Bowie’s Toy remains, thankfully, unreleased. Beachwood Sparks’ Desert Skies can now be added to the list of lost albums that finally saw the light of day. And very welcome to the world it is too. Recorded in 1998, it was shelved prior to the release of the self-titled ‘debut’ in 2000. A number of the songs originally slated for Desert Skies found their way on to their first proper release. The good news is that they sound different here. Really different. And better. Much better. On the self-titled debut, the twang was in full show. Here, it’s a much rockier guitar that dominates. Also, the songs were shorter. Here, they get stretched well out. On the debut ‘Desert Skies’ itself didn’t make the three minute mark, whereas here it reaches nearly five with three quite separate musical acts. In fact, the willingness to experiment within the confines of a single song is the big revelation here. The start of ‘This Is What He Feels Like’ has the same beginning as the equivalent take on the debut, but then it takes off and goes in an entirely different direction, leaving the familiar version far behind. Beachwood Sparks are now two for two. Some years ago they split up and went their separate ways. Last year, they reunited and delivered Tarnished Gold. Now, knowing that they had good material in the vaults, they’ve just gone and released if not a long-lost classic, then at least a mighty fine album.

Pitchfork review

Paste Magazine review

CMJ review

Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold

This is a crowded space in which to operate. Fleet Foxes. Vetiver. Husky. Hiss Golden Messenger. Jonathan Wilson. The list goes on. Beachwood Sparks, though, have form. Their 2000 s-t album was well received. But after one more album and an EP, that was it. At first, their brand of country-pop, psychedelic-country, insert equivalent two-word descriptors of your choice, was fresh sounding. Jangly like the Byrds. But just that little bit spaced out. It made waves, because what you got wasn’t quite what you expected. After a decade away, Beachwood Sparks are back. But they’re not quite the same as before. Gone is any overt experimentation. Instead, they’ve placed themselves firmly and squarely in that crowded space. True, the guitars are more country-sounding than most of the laid-back Canyon groups. There’s even a bit of a hoe-down towards the end. But nothing too overstated. Which is perhaps the keyword for the album as a whole. This is an easy listening album and, for once, that’s meant as a compliment. There’s not that sense, as there is with groups such as Chief, Maplewood, The Autumn Defense, of trying hard to ape a particular sound. For Beachwood Sparks the sound comes naturally. ‘Water From the Well’ flows beautifully. ‘Talk About Lonesome’ will not make you feel lonesome at all. Plus, there’s a welcome sense that things aren’t being taken too seriously. Calling a song ‘Sparks Fly Again’ is hardly a coincidence and ending the album with a track called ‘Goodbye’ suggests that there may be another 10-year wait before they return. But just maybe they’re teasing. Let’s hope so.

Beachwood Sparks official label page