I haven’t heard an underground buzz on a band like this since maybe the Linus of Hollywood release last year. Comparisons to the Buffalo Springfield (Neil Young, Steven Stills) and the West Coast Topanga Canyon sound circa late ’60s have been rampant all over the print and new media. After spending some time with this recording, I hear those artists, but there are other influences at work here which create an updated sound. To me, Beachwood Sparks sound like a merger of Northern and Southern California bands of that great late ’60s era, namely bands such as Moby Grape, the Grateful Dead and the Gram Parsons-era Byrds.
For those unfamiliar with these references and what it means in terms of sound, all of the bands listed above blended traditional folk acoustic sounds with jazz, rock, country and blues to create a pastoral, warm feel. Instrumentation included acoustic and electric 12-string and pedal steel guitars with up to 4-part harmonies. The Los Angeles bands such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were a bit more pop oriented, while Moby Grape and the Dead stretched things out a bit, leaning towards what would become the extended jam hippie rock that inspired legions of fans which became known as Dead-Heads.
Here, Beachwood Sparks borrow from the influences that made those bands unique. The variety of styles that crossed over with the bands that have been mentioned here have been mastered on this recording. From the loping opener “Desert Skies” and the weaving magical “Canyon Ride,” the band creates a comforting sound, highlighted by the unassuming guitars and vocals that blend together nicely. A good example of the convergence of styles here is to compare the very Grateful Dead sounding “Sister Rose” with the very Byrds sounding “Something I Didn’t Recognize.” “…Rose” shows a mastery of that Dead harmony sound, while “Something…” has a sound that resembles what “Eight Miles High” would sound like if Gram Parsons attempted to rewrite it.
What does all of this mean? They say music is an evolution, and what is old is what is new again. In this packaged world of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, it is a pleasure to see an artist like Beachwood Sparks wear such wonderful influences on its sleeve. They have created their own sound for today, and I am not surprised that they have surfaced on Sub Pop, a label that signs artists based on real songs and talent.