Release Date: Aug 25, 2017
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
With the likes of Our Endless Numbered Days, it was easy to pigeonhole Sam Beam as just another 00s indie rock troubadour - lush tunes, heart-tugging lyrics, possibly a cover version on an indie romcom erring on the wrong side of twee… However, with later releases exploring everything from dub to dream pop, Beam lost both momentum and fans. On his return to Sub Pop and with a "back to basics" tag, is Beast Epic penance for his musical flirtations? Kinda - this is a definite return to Beam's roots. Recorded live with old friends and minimal overdubs, Beast Epic is all effortless acoustic swell, melodies reminiscent of his best-loved work, and lazy Lambchop-like lollop.
D espite having a title that suggests a new thrash metal direction, Sam Beam's sixth album as Iron & Wine essays yet more romantic, Americana-tinged songwriting, and it's cosier than ever. As Beam sings poetically in his goose-down voice, cadences resolve as contentedly as old married couples, even in songs of friction such as Bitter Truth. Call it Dreaming is the most robust thing here, and its emotional clarity - "For all the love you've left behind / you can have mine" - ensures it will soundtrack wedding photo slideshows for all eternity.
Perhaps the North Carolina-based songwriter is keen to highlight the core values - intimacy, quiet contemplation, somewhat insular and deftly coded contemplations that somehow, at their best, accrue a great deal of universal appeal - of Iron & Wine following collaborative albums with Jesca Hoop and Band Of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell. Recorded mainly live at Wilco 's studio The Loft, Beast Epic is hardly a replica of the murky lo-fi mutterings of 2002's debut The Creek Drank the Cradle. There are still rich details to be discovered, but the album's sparse sound and predominantly leisurely pace may seem almost confrontationally introverted after the dense web of choirs and brass and vibrant - if occasionally almost overbearing - pop/rock stylings that populated much of 2011's Kiss Each Other Clean and 2013's Ghost on Ghost.
Apart from a collaboration with Band Of Horses' Ben Bridwell, it's been four years since Iron & Wine's Sam Beam graced the cultural landscape with his delicious voice and lustrous facial hair. This, the project's sixth album, is a return home of sorts with a move back to the Sub Pop label and the sparse acoustic dynamics that characterised those earliest records. Not that this is a collection that looks back.
Following a series of increasingly florid, adventurous albums that have seen Sam Beam deviate from his rustic roots, the music videos for the first two singles from Iron & Wine's Beast Epic present visions of the dusty, nature-attuned troubadour that his music has always suggested. That's to say nothing of the songs themselves, which—steeped in rich acoustic guitar strums and spare, shambling folksiness—are redolent of Iron & Wine's early work. As two of Beast Epic's best cuts, “Call It Dreaming” and “Thomas County Law” certainly exemplify the album's ascetic arrangements and pastoral atmospherics.