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Make the Cowboy Robots Cry - EP

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Album Review

Beachwood Sparks don't like being fenced into any one particular musical pasture. While their critics obviously have no trouble pointing out the band's love of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, they'll often neglect to mention how the band might also drop in a tottering "Interstellar Overdrive" organ riff or tear off on a psychedelic space rock tangent. Their spirited cover of "By Your Side" on last year's Once We Were Trees also revealed they were liable to make a whimsical pop culture statement without so much as tipping their hand why they would cover Sade's hit in the first place (talk about smooth operators). Make the Cowboy Robots Cry, however, is their most adventurous turn yet, a real reflection of where they are now and where they're possibly headed next. The focus on this wistful six-song EP — which clocks in at just over 30 minutes — is where it has been all along, placed front and center on Chris Gunst's tender but frail vocals and the band's lilting harmonies (think Smile-era Beach Boys). This release, however, also finds them straying from the Cosmic American path to add electronic and post-rock elements along the way. Some of it sounds like Spiritualized trying to cover the ballads on The Notorious Byrd Brothers. According to bassist/vocalist Brent Rademaker, they were also listening to Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue while ensconced in the studio. It makes sense, as some of that classic and somewhat undiscovered album's cosmic stoner vibe has managed to find its way into these grooves. No doubt the additional production and instrumental aid by Jimmy Tamborello (Strictly Ballroom, Dntel, Figurine) had its effect on their sound. This EP also marks the return of drummer Jimi Hey (Strictly Ballroom), who had originally played with them early in their career; Aaron Sperske, meanwhile, has rejoined Kurt Heasley's Lilys. There are many highlights among the half-dozen tracks: "Hibernation" resounds with somnolent beauty, all sleepy-eyed and soft to the touch, while "Ponce de Leon Blues" — with friend Mia Doi Todd's sultry backing vocals — is a soulful tune that wobbles along, accompanied by the sound of a stylus stuck in a sun-warped slab of vinyl.


Formed: 1998 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Los Angeles-based cosmic country-pop combo Beachwood Sparks were formed in mid-1998 by onetime Strictly Ballroom singer/guitarist Chris Gunst, slide guitarist/keyboardist Dave Scher, ex-Further bassist Brent Rademaker, and Lilys drummer Aaron Sperske. Inspired by the pioneering country-rock efforts of West Coast legends like the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Buffalo Springfield, the group issued acclaimed singles for Bomp! ("Desert Skies") and Sub Pop ("Midsummer Daydream") prior to the...
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