By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
One thing that hasn't changed is the band's steadfast adherence to a retro recording aesthetic. Along with the gorgeous time-warp efforts of Detroit's Outrageous Cherry, Beachwood Sparks is the underground band that seems most adept at making genuine sonic connections to its antecedents. Gram-o-philes will note the Sparks' country dirge "Hearts Mend"--which rips its plip-plop drums (and title, for that matter) from Parsons' playbook. Or the piano 'n' steel swayer "By Your Side," a surprisingly earnest cover of a Sade tune, which the band turns into "Hot Burrito No. 3."
Lyrically, the Sparks' songs (mostly penned by Gunst) are typical of Parsons' oeuvre. Themes run the gamut, from the "Sin City" escapism of the aforementioned "Hearts Mend" to the big-mouth blues of "Yer Selfish Ways" to the pale morning reverie of "The Hustler."
With its multiple layers, litany of rock references and expansive scope, Once We Were Trees is a kitchen sink record to be sure, yet it doesn't come off as sonic indulgence, but rather a heartfelt expression and thorough digestion of several generations of music-making.
"Hopefully it won't just be considered a retro thing," says Gunst. "We like old music, but we like all music, you know what I mean? All that gets filtered down into what we're doing, and, hopefully, it turns out to be something original in the end."