01 Feb Iron and Wine: Folkie embraces more eclectic sounds
Iron and Wine | Kiss Each Other Clean
Warner Brothers | January 2011
It’s easy to look at Iron and Wine musical development in terms of the listening to a radio on a farm.
Sam Beam now lives outside of Austin, but his roots are firmly in the South (born and raised in South Carolina), his early music reflecting Nick Drake-via-Appalachia on songs like “Southern Anthem” (from his first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle). Churches, crosses, the countryside and cattle – his low-fi, stripped-down songs like AM-radio lullabies to a rustic life.
But with each subsequent record, Iron and Wine continues to distance itself from Beam’s folk troubadour roots; on 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, they’d become more of a band, Beam’s trust in other musicians pushing their recordings into new territory – his radio had added the FM band.
Where Shepherd’s Dog was more sonically ambitious than its predecessors – Kiss Each Other Clean takes this ambition more than a step further – metaphorically embracing XM radio. This provides for interesting, if not always cohesive, results. It’s like a lot of strange new folks have come to visit the farm – providing funky bass lines (“Me and Lazarus”, “Monkeys Uptown”), and Fleetwood Mac-esque vocals and guitar (“Tree by the River”, “Half Moon”), and about as close to Radiohead as Beam will get (on the mini-epic “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me”).
And like The Shepherd’s Dog, the instrumentation continues to become more diverse. Though Beam isn’t quite the genre hopper that, say, Ariel Pink is, it seems as if track is intentionally imbued with a different feel, and a unique instrument to convey it.
There is still some of Beam’s seductive vocal whisper that introduced many to the band (the ubiquitous cover of The Postal Services’ “Such Great Heights”); but this is frequently replaced by the stronger, more confident delivery exhibited on Shepherd’s Dog – and even occasionally a growl (the somewhat out-of-place “Big Burned Hand”).
The record may not have the accessibility of earlier work, or of its new-folk contemporaries (say, The Decemberists’ The King is Dead), but – upon repeated listens, it is a far more cohesive than it initially seems. Its ramshackle held together by solid, if sometimes obscured melodies (and signature occasional F-bomb), Clean is Beam’s “dirtiest”, if not funnest, record to date.