Back in 1997, six musicians met at the intersection of Beachwood Dr. and Sparks St. in L.A. to form the psychedelic country rock band, Beachwood Sparks. In their early rehearsals they created the record that could’ve been the band’s first LP, and then shelved it for sixteen years. I know, musicians. Only the singles Desert Skies and Make It Together saw the light of day back then, and instead, Beachwood Sparks (2000) became known as their acclaimed 2000 debut.
Three full-length albums later in a mega-nostalgic move, Alive Naturalsound Records decided to finally release the lost compilation, now titled Desert Skies. Like its name implies, the record strikes initially as the kind of album you’d like to listen to while sunbathing in Southern California on a Sunday evening at dusk. However, as it progresses and after a couple more in-depth listens, the songs reveal the band’s visionary origins that set the grounds for pretty much everything they’ve done since, if ultimately paired down to a four-man ensemble.
The melodic title track serves as a fitting opener, and immediately displays the more upbeat side of Beachwood Sparks that stays consistent throughout the record. The LP goes on with Make It Together, a power-pop tune both jolly and catchy that keeps the spirits up and the harmonies flowing. “Keep on shining like a star/You’re one in a million, yes you are,” sings guitarist Josh Schwartz in a slightly cheesy, yet quite endearing manner.
Time is definitely one of the highlights of the album for being particularly mellow and nostalgic, and serves as a nice bridge between the previously released singles and the previously unheard material. Sweet Julie Ann is another harmony-laden psych tune accompanied by engaging velvety vocals that leave you in a dream-like mood. The record ends with Midsummer Dream, a seven-minute kaleidoscopic jam.
Desert Skies combines hints of surf rock and Southern California psychedelic pop, and is packed with a lo-fi energy that gives it a homemade, retro feel. After listening to the whole thing, it’s no wonder why the band has been carrying the west coast’s cosmic folk torch throughout all these years—they know what they’re doing, and apparently, always did. The only mild complaint would be that some tracks feel a little too long (even for the genre) and sometimes a tad repetitive.
The CD and digital album comes with four bonus unheard remastered mixes that give some of the songs a new feel. A treat for both long-time fans and newbies, Desert Skies is a young and honest record that clearly shows the band’s initial potential, stroked by an ambient tone drawn from their first summer spent together over a decade ago.