Beachwood Sparks – Make the Cowboy Robots Cry – Review

Beachwood Sparks

Make the Cowboy Robots Cry (Sub Pop)
by Brian Varney

An eccentric cousin to last year’s Once We Were Trees, this six-song EP finds the band stepping farther away from Gram Parson’s Cosmic American Music template and into outer space (in a rocket driven by a pilot in a cowboy suit, no less). Far less song-based than its stellar predecessor, Make the Cowboy Robots Cry is nonetheless a bold step into the cosmos, a burst through the band’s complex web of influences out into freedom.

Though the raw materials are roughly the same as before (country-flavored instrumentation, Hammond organ, wistful but not sad vocals betraying a strong indie-rock influence, ear-catching production with lots of nice ’60s-flavored flourishes), said materials are put to very different use this time out. Lengthy opener “Drinkswater” is clearly a harbinger of change, a swirling soundscape whose seemingly disparate sections are beautifully stitched together with gossamer thread, the immaculate needlework every bit as impressive as the finished whole.

The real highpoint of this disc’s 28 or so minutes is “Ponce de Leon Blues,” a duet with someone named Mia Doi Todd (I hope hers is not a name that I as a music hipster and know-it-all am supposed to know) and probably the best thing yet to bear the band’s name. Another lengthy one, “Ponce,” evokes a long, slow, final slide down the water to where the river runs ashore. Maybe it’s not as sad as all that ’cause I can’t really make much sense of the lyrics (not that I tried especially hard), but whatever’s supposed to be going on, it’s happening very beautifully. And, as with “Drinkswater,” the beauty is in the details. This one may take a few spins to fully sink in, but it’s worth the effort.
(PO Box 20367 Seattle, WA 98102)