Once We Were Trees press release

I wish that I didn’t have to tell you about the new Beachwood Sparks album. It’d be so much better if you just stumbled across it. And it’d be absolutely perfect if you could save it for a drive across the desert, a graveyard shift or maybe a first kiss. But the full effect of this sprawling masterpiece is gonna take time to sink in. There are so many hidden passages, spiraling stairways, dark corners and kept secrets.

The name of the album is Once We Were Trees, and it’s their second full-length. The dry facts are as follows:

  • It was recorded at J. Mascis’ studio in Northampton, MA. J. plays on it somewhere.
  • It was recorded and partially mixed by Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers).
  • It was also partially mixed by Mike Deming (Lilys, Beachwood Sparks’ eponymous debut).
  • It features a sweetly torching version of Sade’s By Your Side. For real.

From the opening swirl of Germination, it’s Beachwood Sparks’ shimmering coherence that gently lures and caresses the listener. While not a song-cycle in the traditional sense, Once We Were Trees is of one place, even if it is, as Kurt Vonnegut would have it, “unstuck in time”.

The place, of course, is California, the muse of John Steinbeck and John Phillips; the golden touchstone in our national consciousness. Even in times defined by rolling blackouts and dot-com freefall, California represents unyielding optimism, grit and natural wonder. It’s from this place that Beachwood Sparks examine the simple truths underpinning life’s uncertainties and complexities.

Some highlights:

Confusion Is Nothing New skips and soars and elevates. Farmer Dave’s The Sun Surrounds Me could be The Cyrkle (Red Rubber Ball — an oldie) backing a much younger Stephen Stills. With its lonesome harmonica and cascading coda, Let It Run evokes both desolation and euphoria. The Hustler sweeps from a ghostly suggestion of pain to a full-throated plea for mercy. The Good Night Whistle is cool and nocturnal: a post-modern impressionist lullaby. Breathtaking.

And then there is By Your Side. Chris Gunst’s vocal is as guileless and playful, as Sade’s is determined and passionate. Transcendent.

With its many layers, echoes and voices, Once We Were Trees is a small triumph that promises to grow into a big one.

– Jonathan Poneman, Seattle, July, 2001