From folk whisperer to (soft) rock god, it’s Iron & Wine’s fourth album.
FM radio isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of Fleetwood Mac and the like filling the airwaves with soft rock odes to going your own way. However, former whisperer (and this album is a long way from the acoustic plucking of debut The Creek Drank the Cradle) Sam Beam of Iron & Wine is doing his bit to change this. On new album Kiss Each Other Clean, the follow up to the already noticeably fuller The Shepherd’s Dog, Beam goes for broke, creating a lustrous canvas that would fit seamlessly into the 70s soft rock oeuvre.
But fear not, this is no mere pastiche. Beam has created a modern sounding 70s FM record, if such a contradiction can exist. This is evident on opener ‘Walking Far From Home’: Beam’s vocals sound tinny, but in a way that suits the reverb-laden intro to the song. Complimented by luscious vocal melodies in the background, Beam’s voice soars. And the lyrics do not disappoint; “Saw a car crash in the country/ Where the prayers run like weeds along the road” just one of many brilliant images detailed in the song’s sojourn.
All the songs follow in this vein, while maintaining a variety that keeps the album fresh at every turn. ‘Monkey Uptown’ is reminiscent of a funk-calypso number, all shimmering maracas and plinky-plonky synths. Similar to this is ‘Rabbit Will Run’, which has a darker tone with darker lyrics (“And we’ve armed all the children we thought we’d betrayed / And I still have a prayer, but too few occasions to pray”).
‘Half Moon’ could be from Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, Beam embodying a happier, slightly lusher Drake, complete with ‘doo wops’. So do ‘Tree By The River’ and ‘Godless Brother In Love’, both channelling Drake while maintaining Beam’s unique voice, both aurally and lyrically. This trio of elegant songs is a nice contrast to some of the funkier cuts on the album, yet the real standout is the 7 minute closer ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me’. Opening with jazzy horns, the finale appears to be going for all out funk, coupled with Beam’s jaunty vocals. As the song progresses, however, the song’s depths are revealed, with a high pitched refrain that slowly morphs into a true rock epic, with guitar stabs, deep melodies and yet again Beam’s wonderful vocals.
It will be intriguing to see where Beam goes from here. This is already a step up in terms of both instrumentation and quality from his previous album. It appears that this is an artist only now fully realising his sonic palette. However, for the moment, he has created a brilliant album that does full justice to its musical predecessors.