Top Albums of 2012: 100-51

It’s really hard to narrow down a list of Top Albums of 2012, especially when you have four contributors with different opinions.  We gave the reins to Nathan.Lankford and Nicole Baumann on this one, since they write the majority of the album reviews, but we all have a little representation within this.  Now, we do realize that our site has specialized tastes, so please realize that these are our OPINIONS.  You’re welcome to disagree, and, in fact, we encourage that process.  Also, we’re doing a Top 100 because so many records came out this year, it wouldn’t be fair to narrow it down.  Not to mention it might lead you to discover some hits you hadn’t heard about yet. Oh, and we don’t really like Frank Ocean or hip-hop…just a personal choice…here’s the first segment.

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Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold

Rating: ★★★½ ·

With the current indie landscape coated in folk harmonies and wooded soundscapes, it seems only fitting that Beachwood Sparks would return after taking a break 11 years ago.  Interestingly, The Tarnished Gold, while bearing similarities to the modern landscape, has a sound more classic in structure, carefully crafting the perfect listen for fans of all sorts.

Immediately you fall in love, or at least I did.  “Forget the Song” sounds like an American version of The Crayon Fields, except filled with a bit of slide guitar and twang.  It’s got the same slight echo on the vocal, with guitars and casual drumming all tied in to perfection.  Other songs fit this exact same  style like “Tarnished Gold,” which is perhaps why I’ve enjoyed listening to Beachwood Sparks so much lately.  The guitars definitely give it a more country/folk feel, but the gentle vocals will absolutely carry you away. You’ll also find hints of other great American music throughout.

“Sparks Fly Again” is filled with noodling guitars and vocal harmonizing, but what caught me off guard was the seemingly Grateful Dead chorus jumping in and out.  It’s not there in a jam band sort of way, which enables me to appreciate the track all the more, but it definitely reminds me that my age is having me walk a fine line with the hipster abhorred hippy ilk. But, please don’t tell anyone that I just admitted to that.  The presence of these sort of moments are all over The Tarnished Gold, demonstrating that the band is much more rooted in the classic structure of Californian pop music, rather than joining the bandwagon of modern folk acts.

With all their traditional stylings, one of the things I like best about this Beachwood Sparks record is its ability to go live it out on its own terms.  “No Queremos Oro” is a quirky Spanish pop tune, almost like a sunny Mariachi ballad.  Of course, my love for all things Latin American forces me to love this track, but you have to have courage to put something like this in the middle of a classic folk tinged album; I applaud the band for that.  Luckily, it’s also followed by my favorite track here: “Earl Jean.”  I like the sound of the guitar strumming, spliced with some intermittent guitar jabs (noodles?) coming in and out. It’s explosion of bright guitars at the midway point is truly special, and feels so familiar that I swear I wrote it myself.

The more I get involved with The Tarnished Gold, the more I feel that it’s going to become the perfect soundtrack for my summer here in Texas.  As the warm sun beats upon my back, I can hear the slide guitars meeting on the humid air of the harmonies. There’s elements of folk music, classic Americana, and even your modern indie feel; it’s pulled off to perfection, giving Beachwood Sparks a return to glory that seems much deserved.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Beachwood-Sparks-Sparks-Fly-Again.mp3]

Download:Beachwood Sparks – Sparks Fly Again [MP3]

More New Tunes from Beachwood Sparks

Seems like summertime is perfect for guitar noodling and mellow jams, so I’m happy that Beachwood Sparks has been able to return to the fold as we go deep into the hot weather.  After getting back together, the group has recorded Tarnished Gold, which is being released by Sub Pop on June 26th, and trust me, it’s a gem of a record.  I’m not that well boned-up on my classic rock, but I hear that shaky ground between Neil Young and the Grateful Dead (I know, sacrilege for us indie kids).  Sometimes you just can’t ignore a good hit.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Beachwood-Sparks-Sparks-Fly-Again.mp3]

Download:Beachwood Sparks – Sparks Fly Again [MP3]