Beachwood Sparks: S/T (2000)

While I enjoy Gram Parsons' music, and greatly respect his legacy, I've always been a little disappointed with his self-proclaimed tag as a purveyor of "cosmic American music."  Parsons made country music.  Freed of the thematic baggage and musical tropes of much country music, sure, but there was nothing terribly cosmic about it.

L.A.'s Beachwood Sparks put the cosmic back in cosmic American music.  Yeah, it's unabashed Parsons-like modern country twang, firmly fitting into the contemporary Americana mold; but the psychedelia one might expect to hear in cosmic American music is there as well.  At its best, their debut album (and equally great follow-up, 2001's Once We Were Trees) linger around the Byrds right in the middle of the psychedelic masterpiece Notorious Byrd Brothers and the Parsons-aided Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

One needn't be an Americana aficionado to appreciate the jangly pop majesty of "Sister Rose" and 60s garage band/sunshine pop throwback "This Is What It Feels Like" and trippy "Something I Don't Recognize" (the most blatant appropriation of Byrd Brothers); indeed, some of this will appeal as much to fans of post-punk Americana contortionists the Meat Puppets (particularly in the slightly askew vocals) as to Parsons fanatics.  But the twang is all over the place, as close as indie jangle rock can get to country music without leaving those turned off by country music (i.e. me) in the dust.  Fortunately, as becomes clear from the opening notes of album opener "Desert Skies" (and, after a brief psychedelic break, "Silver Morning After"), the band has a knack for a catchy melody and sonic richness that more than adequately dresses up the traditional country vibe and imagery underlying many tracks.

It's a great package, carefully sequenced, so that both the "cosmic" and "Americana" components get to shine, fully loaded with some truly killer tunes.

After those first couple albums, the band took about a decade off, then picked up where they left off with 2012's superb The Tarnished Gold; this was followed with a collection of older material, Desert Skies, which is a much more rocking album -- arguably better than the stripped down versions they ultimately released for fans of less twangy indie rock.  The band members also have multiple side projects (like the poppy The Tyde and psychedelic, Elephant 6-like All Night Radio (whose Spirit Stereo Frequency is a great lost gem).

Here's a wonderful live take on "Sister Rose":
...and a live "Desert Skies":
And here's an audio rip of "This Is What It Feels Like":