June 06, 2002

Beachwood Sparks "Make The Cowboy Robots Cry"

I've been spending a little bit of time appreciating Norman Carl Odam. A name that doesn't really mean much, unless you're really in to odd, weird music. Odam was and is much more "commonly" known as the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. His is a wonderfully odd story, and though I won't go into his full life here, suffice it to say that his "space country" was and is most peculiar. Or, as one DJ recently said, "In 1964, The Beatles got big, so Norman thought he should be that big, too," and proceeded to create ramshackle "space country" music that sounded like (and still sounds like) nothing heard at the time.

Beachwood Sparks also have that whole "space country" vibe going. They've released two albums to critical acclaim and comments such as "dude, they sound like the Grateful Dead!" And while I wouldn't be able to confirm or deny, I'm pretty sure that their recording sessions occasionally get a bit hazy. Make the Cowboy Robots Cry is the document of the Sparks' collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello, of futuristic electronic bands Figurine and D'ntel., and they're wanting to create a new country rock style, by way of modern electronica-based instrumentation.

One might think that this meeting of acoustic soft "old" sounds and technologically cold "new" sounds might prove to be an interesting development of space country. Make the Cowboy Robots Cry, at its best, provides glimpses of a newly-birthed musical style. At its worst, however, it's a third-rate Grandaddy impersonation.
With its warm, mechanical purring pulse, Beachwood Sparks deserve credit for trying something new, and I'm not holding that against them. Pretty is nice, but it doesn't always work, and Make the Cowboy Robots Cry is nothing if not an attempt at making pretty music.

The DJ that I was referring to earlier mentioned that Norman Carl Odam was "a genius in some ways, and not in others," and I think that's a pretty good summation of Make the Cowboy Robots Cry. This is a record that strikes me differently each time I listen to it. Sometimes, I really think the spaced-out mix and the floating in and out of tune harmonies are quite gorgeous, painting a picture of space as the new Wild West. Other times, I feel like it's all a big sonic blur that sounds terribly, terribly flat.

The one high point is "Ghost Dance 1492," which is a rather upbeat rocker that sounds all of 1968, and doesn't really contain the elements that make the rest of Make the Cowboy Robots Cry a mixed bag, and though it's not their best record, it proves that the Beachwood Sparks are growing, experimenting, and maturing their musical ideas.

--Joseph Kyle

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