Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean
Rustic singer/songwriter perfects his indie folk impulses on fourth album
Listening through each of Iron & Wine’s four full-length releases to-date, one could argue that singer/songwriter Sam Beam’s intention was a career-spanning expansion of his sonic palette and stylistic range, as each successive album since 2002’s The Creek Drank The Cradle’s lo-fi, one-man crooning has evolved almost as though Beam were teaching his audience the history of recorded folk music. While the evolution found in 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog with its peppier tunes featuring a full band might well have been as far as Beam would take things, his newest release, Kiss Each Other Clean, has advanced his style much further with the addition of synthesizers (albeit of the retro-70’s variety), odd auxiliary percussion instruments, studio effects, saxophones and layered choral vocal harmonies, offering listeners an entirely new take on Iron & Wine, and probably earning him himself a much wider (but still tasteful) fan base.
This said, Kiss Each Other Clean, manages to have many distinct sounds between its ten tracks, from minimally-repetitive slow-burners and early 70’s folk pop to odd electronic hybrid pieces and funkier up-tempo rock, all arranged in such a way as to keep any one style from getting old. In fact, the most obvious stylistic omission from the album is that of Beam’s standard acoustic ballad, which here is represented only by the poignant “Godless Brother In Love,” with even this incarnation of his established style showing signs of evolution, featuring the addition of a piano and one-man choir along with the expected constant acoustic guitar plucking, all with a noticeably higher grade of studio production.
While the 70’s folk pop tunes do show a marked change for Beam’s output, more interesting (with regards to instrumental texture) are the more experimental pieces, best represented by the drum machine-driven and slinky “Monkeys Uptown” and the eclectically odd “Rabbit Will Run.” Lyrically though, the album’s highlights are the repetitive bookends “Walking Far From Home” and the two-parter “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me,” both of which feature a slowly-evolving sound world where vocal ostinatos force the lyrics into the spotlight, giving Beam’s creative verses a chance to truly shine with their many images so unique and descript as to nearly force the listener to take Beam’s fantastical trip with him.
Clearly, Iron & Wine’s new effort has very little in common with his earlier work, and as such, longtime fans who aren’t quite ready for such a diverse and experimental album might fail to warm to Kiss Each Other Clean, but for the rest of us, this is truly a magnificent achievement, offering both lyrical and musical depth yet simultaneously pushing the current indie folk trend forward with its sensible marriage of retro and modern technology and instrumentation. The only question that remains is whether Beam will continue this unique musical journey through history with his next record or simply return to his roots, possibly for fear of losing touch with his base.
- Release Date: 25 January 2011
- Label: Warner Bros.
- Producer: Brian Deck
- Spin This: “Walking Far From Home,” “Godless Brother In Love,” “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me”