Beachwood Sparks: The Tarnished Gold – Review

Beachwood Spark’s latest album is a portrait of summer days long gone; of the rolling fields and lazy beaches we would like to imagine were a part of our own youth.  It is good then, that The Tarnished Gold has arrived at the apex of summer, a time when we are all more susceptible to the shimmering guitar that is the soundtrack to our sun-drenched fantasies.

The Tarnished Gold is the first album from somnolescent country band Beachwood Sparks in 11 years.  That’s enough time for anyone to imagine that the end of the band had sadly reached its end, but as guitarist Chris Gunst sings on the track Earl Jean, “I love a happy ending.”  If The Tarnished Gold does wind up being the end for Beachwood Sparks, it has inarguably made it a happy one.

The Tarnished Gold sees the return of the lineup that defined the most prolific periods of the band’s history:  Singer/guitarist Chris Gunst, bassist Brent Rademaker, guitarist/keyboardist Dave Scher, and drummer Aaron Sperske.  They are joined on this album by a long list of friends acquired over the many years since their last album, and the result is an album that sounds like the result of 11 years of experiences brought back home.

The opening track Forget The Song outlines the album perfectly.  The song moves with the rhythm of an empty highway, its destination unimportant but for the journey.  The chorus asks the listener to “forget the song that I’ve been singing”, as if to make it clear that the present should not be beholden to the past.  The Tarnished Gold is not asking to be compared to the band’s previous records – it is simply a moment in time.

And time is something the album manipulates to great effect.  There is an unavoidable tempo that the band instills in the listener.  It is the tempo of youth, and of long days – but that is not to say the album is slow.  Like a car driving down that empty highway, it likes to put its foot down a little.  But not so much that you can’t hear the music.

The album is for the most part amazingly consistent, to its benefit.  It brings with it a vivid story that sounds so cohesive it almost demands to be listened to in track order.  This is one of the few recent albums that can honestly claim to be a better experience when listened to in its entirety.  Most of the tracks feel stuck together with glue, which makes the odd Spanish interlude No Queremos Oro feel a bit jarring.  It’s a track that doesn’t seem to quite have a place on the album, but it is thankfully only a short bump on the road.

The Tarnished Gold is a record with a heavy load of personnel in places, yet it always remains respectful to the songs.  There are no unnecessary overdubs, solos, or soupy choruses – it leaves plenty of room to breath and to have its voice heard.  Voice is The Tarnished Gold’s secret weapon, and where there is one, there is almost certain to be others.  When the many voices wind through the choruses, the songs take on the guided but unrehearsed feel of a jam, while remaining totally listenable.

The Tarnished Gold is the perfect album for the summer.  It is a record that will take its time getting you to its end, if only because it has your rapt attention the whole way.  It is an album that will cause you to appreciate time, both that which has passed and that which has yet to.  It is a picture of a moment, but luckily for us, it is one that can be relived over and over again.

Beachwood Sparks’ new album The Tarnished Gold is available now from Sub Pop.