Cowboy Robots Ride Again

The Beachwood Sparks reunion is a California dream come true.

Some blog-like entity called Losanjealous recently wet its panties over this Beachwood Sparks reunion. In fact, they announced it as the big event of Sub Pop's 20th-anniversary shindig. Of course, there's something like 12 billion blogs out there, so the post only generated a measly three comments. But all of them came from old-school Sub Pop devotees kindly asking Losanjealous to take a long walk off a short plank. Green River and The Fluid rising from their musty coffins is the real news, they said. They're right, y'know. Green River is a true granddaddy of grunge. Even dorks like me who back in the day preferred H.O.R.D.E. to Lollapalooza understood the band's importance: No Green River means no Mudhoney, no Pearl Jam, no going to the multiplex for the premiere of Singles (which was a huge fuckin' deal for me and my friends). As for The Fluid, well, any shaggy drunkard who saw them rock in the early '90s usually counts it as one of the two or three loudest shows he can't remember. That really says something, considering Sub Pop and Amphetamine Reptile were throwing up so many quality Neanderthals in love with extreme decibel levels. Despite all that, more than just the folks at Losanjealous care about a Beachwood Sparks reunion. Although the L.A. quartet ceased to exist a mere six years ago, their psychedelic country twee maintains a healthy rock-'n'-roll mythology and an ever-growing cult of followers. In their hometown alone there's Biirdie, Lavender Diamond, and that tart Jenny Lewis and her friends the Watson Twins (who are cute but d-u-l-l). All these cool kids sound heavily influenced by the band's fusion of West-Coast rock and languid dream-pop. Even Lewis' group Rilo Kiley, formed around the same time as Beachwood Sparks, flirted with Fleetwood Mac vibrations on their last two albums. Then there's the rest of the country, God bless 'em: Blitzen Trapper, the Skygreen Leopards, Dr. Dog, the Dreadful Yawns, M. Ward's She & Him, and the Morning Benders. I should also mention the Sadies right about now. As with Rilo Kiley, life started for the Canadian act around '98. Yet the Sadies' latest album, last year's New Seasons, contains gorgeous moments of Beachwood Sparks worship, even though they're superior musicians. A chunk of the band's myth can be reduced to the usual suspects: short lifespan, limited output, and rock-'n'-roll gossip. Beachwood Sparks, who lived in a pre-Arthur, pre-freak folk Los Angeles, were denim loners without a local scene. They stopped producing at the height of their powers, recording just two albums (Beachwood Sparks and Once We Were Trees), an EP, and several singles in just five years, during which shady drug rumors followed them around like a performing monkey does his trainer. Far more important is the actual music. Many of the band's disciples have moved more units, but none of them possess their scope. The Leopards look to New Riders, the Yawns nick Gram Parsons, Dr. Dog digs that quirky tunesmith Emitt Rhodes. But only Beachwood Sparks ever tried merging damn near every aspect of California pop history, from Hollywood Westerns to the Dead to the paisley underground, into a single sweeping aesthetic. Interestingly enough, this ambition was born of the band's awareness of their limitations as children of indie rock, which has always championed amateurism over craftsmanship. Unlike, say, Jenny Lewis, who sounds like a suburban prom queen struggling to be Linda Ronstadt or Stevie Nicks, Beachwood Sparks knew they didn't have Nashville West's professionalism, the Beach Boys' voices, or Michael Nesmith's songwriting skills. What they did have were all those classic California records (possibly including the elusive Charley D. and Milo LP), and the postmodern minds needed to edit their finest hooks into simple, but terribly effective, dreamscapes. In fact, there is no better description of Beachwood Sparks' reverb-soaked confusion of futurism and twangy nostalgia than the title of their final release: Make the Cowboy Robots Cry. Then again, maybe that maudlin title is the last thing I should be divulging before Beachwood Sparks heads up to the land of serial killers, lumberjacks, and eco-terrorists. Green River's grizzled fans are liable to tear these mellow Californians apart. But fuck it, if those wimps the Vaselines can handle it, so can Beachwood Sparks. Beachwood Sparks play SP20, 6:40 p.m. Sun., July 13.

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