It’s been seven years since Iron & Wine released “Our Endless Numbered Days,” an artistic eternity since Sam Beam last crafted an album of whispered bedroom tones and four-tracked simplicity. His latest “Kiss Each Other Clean” is no surprise at this point, having two albums and EP to expand that sound to horn and strings sections, vocal modulation and a honing of his heart-halting lyrics of divinity in the mundane.
Like Sufjan Stevens and his “Age of Adz,” I wouldn’t want Beam one-noting his whole career, even if just because he’d become bored as an artist.
But I think “Kiss Each Other Clean” is, still, the sound of a work in progress, still shy of a great album in this era of I&W 2.0.
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This is Beam’s first album for Warner Bros., worth noting considering Iron & Wine would probably never jump to a major unless he was allowed his artistic freedom. In this case, some of those liberties include frequent and sometimes silly saxophone solos, and songs that loop like cyclical hymns rather than completed compositions.
“Walking Far From Home,” the opener, is one of the latter, but it climaxes beautifully and tumbles into melodically upbeat “Me and Lazarus.” The ensembles goes a little soft-rock-retro for “Tree By the River,” video below. It’s at this track that this set starts to feel like this is only drill, this isn’t the real thing, folks.
Some melodies seem only half-baked, or too mundane to build upon, like delicate “Godless Brother in Love” and sonic hodge-podge “Monkeys Uptown.” So instead of forcing his voice up front, he’ll warp it with effects or lay low beneath a heaving, unorthodox rhythm section. But then a real rocker like “Yr City Is a Sucker” or biting jam “Rabbit Will Run” encourages that Beam really is making a conversion to a full-band man. He nods at the Jackson Brownes and the Jonis in tracks like “Glad Man Singing” but brings ‘em up to date with an expert hand on electric and a spot of vibe/keyboards.
It’s still a new age for Beam, and “Kiss Each Other Clean” is another firm step forward. He may not be entirely comfortable “walking far from home” – his sonic origins – yet, but he’s at least going somewhere.
"Kiss Each Other Clean" was released last Tuesday.
Below is the music video for "Tree By the River," directed by Tim Rutili of Califone. He did a fantastic job helming Sundance flick "All My Friends Are Funeral Singers" last year.