Once We Were Treesby Beachwood Sparks
"Traditional West Coast psychedelic country" is what California's Beachwood Sparks have called their style, and that's an apt label. Although they arose from the indie-rock community and have ties to the Lilys and the Pernice Brothers, their style is firmly rooted in the Byrds (circa The Notorious Byrd Brothers), Buffalo Springfield, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, with vocal harmonies that sometimes recall the Beach Boys or the Mamas & the Papas. Given the overt retro-isms, Once We Were Trees could end up frighteningly nostalgic; instead, it's frightfully good. The influences blend more smoothly than they did on the band's self-titled debut, and Trees works even better as a coherent album than a collection of independent songs (which, perhaps, is a retro concept in itself). Guitars -- especially 12-strings and pedal steels -- ring, chime, and slide; vocals rise and fall in gauzy unison; keyboards emerge occasionally to lend color. "Confusion Is Nothing New" relies on what sounds like an electric 12-string line to convey a reassuringly hopeful message: "Don't be afraid, I've lost my way some too/Tomorrow you could start anew." "The Sun Surrounds Me" sounds like a great lost Mike Nesmith song -- that's high praise -- and they transform Sade's "By Your Side" into a sincere country ballad. It may be tempting to play spot-the-influence throughout Once We Were Trees, but that could detract from the genuine pleasure to be had from enjoying Beachwood Sparks' skillfully guided journeys through the past.
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- Sub Pop
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