Release Date: Jan 25, 2011
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
Click to listen to Iron and Wine’s "Tree By the River" When Sam Beam stepped into the spotlight on Iron and Wine's 2002 debut, he was a novelty act. That acoustic guitar, that soothingly sweet tenor voice, that flowing mountain-man beard? Pop music hadn't seen anything like it since the heyday of Cat Stevens. But Beam's songs — sincere folk churners full of backwoods beauty and subtle psychedelia — had a weird magic all their own.
Sam Beam makes his major-label debut with a bang Purists might believe that saxophones and funky basslines have no place on an Iron & Wine album. Well, hold onto your beards and get ready for a rude awakening, diehard folkies, because with Kiss Each Other Clean, Sam Beam has delivered his finest album to date. From the first notes of the fantastic, reverb-soaked “Walking Far From Home,” it’s clear that Kiss Each Other Clean picks up where 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog left off.
Despite Sam Beam’s gifts as a songwriter and musician, the music of Iron and Wine up to this point has been something to be admired rather than loved. Their beauty is balanced by a difference in construction and distance in theme that, while striking, has kept Beam somewhat at arm’s length. Iron and Wine’s music has been something that seemed wafted in from a simpler, more formal time.
[b]Sam Beam[/b] is a man of many guises: from the fey troubadour who gave us the heartbreaking serenade of [b]‘Jezebel’[/b], to the über political beast that vented his frustrations on album [b]‘The Shepherd’s Dog’[/b]. The Biblical references are still pretty prevalent on his fourth record (even if it is just to call Jesus’ resurrected pal an “emancipated punk” on [b]‘Me And Lazarus’[/b]); and the balladeering [b]‘Walking Far From Home’[/b] is comfortingly familiar. But there’s a pop-funk hand at work here, fused with acrid jazz ([b]‘Rabbit Will Run’[/b]), and furious energy ([b]‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me’[/b]), which makes [b]‘Kiss Each Other Clean’[/b] a surprising and majestic triumph.
Although expressions like ‘fully realised’ get bandied around a lot in the world of music criticism, it’s fair to say that Iron & Wine’s previous album The Shepherd’s Dog (2007) fit this description to a tee. Sam Beam’s third full-length was a sonic leap forward from the acoustic bent of his earlier work, but a natural, organic progression all the same. While Our Endless Numbered Days polished and refined the sound he originated on The Creek Drank the Cradle, his collaboration with Calexico and the excellent Woman King EP pointed towards the more expansive full-band sound that came to fruition on The Shepherd’s Dog, a new aesthetic that flourished for two main reasons.
In due course, Sam “Iron & Wine” Beam was going to detain and change his path. With a deft ear for acoustic melody, his earlier efforts were hushed, autumnal depictions rich with communal stories pertaining to range-bound landscapes. As sundown arrived, Beam’s cooing vocals would sway with a passive cadence, ready to tuck in the worries after a long, arduous day.
The last we heard from Samuel Beam (a.k.a. Iron and Wine) was 2009’s Around the Well, a particularly rustic B-sides collection that, while a bit overstuffed, ably showcased the rawer side of Beams’s folksy talent. A stark counterpoint to that release, Kiss Each Other Clean continues the broadening of sound that began on 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, casting aside the last hints of coarse, naked production in favor of more lush strokes.
As you might expect of an erstwhile lecturer and father of five with a beard the size of a copse, Sam Beam has scant regard for notions of cool. His fourth album as Iron and Wine is accordingly packed with sounds that a more self-conscious indie-folk musician wouldn't contemplate. The bass on Me and Lazarus struts its funky stuff like a vicar frugging at a wedding; Rabbit Will Run is beset by maniacally tweeting panpipes; the saxophone on Big Burned Hand sounds half-strangled.
Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean If you were hoping that Samuel Beam might return to the stripped-down acoustic folk of early Iron and Wine, you'll have to wait a bit longer. On Kiss Each Other Clean he's gone even further with the sonic experimentation of his last album, 2007's The Shepherd's Dog. The introspective tunes are ornamented with buzzing analog synths, Afrobeat rhythms, funky psychedelic guitars, jazzy sax lines and lush layers of doo-wop vocals.
Sam Beam’s first album for a major label, Kiss Each Other Clean, doubles down on the experimental gambles found on his last disc, 2007’s The Shepherd?s Dog. Over the course of 44 minutes, he tries out unexpected effects like whining guitar, mildly skronky horns, burbling electronics, and occasional profanities. Not all of the new sounds enhance Beam’s lovely melodies, but they rarely obscure those underlying charms, either.
On 2007's The Shepherd's Dog, Sam Beam reinvented Iron & Wine, building out the whisper-quiet acoustic songs he'd made his name on into a strange and mysterious soundworld, using a full band and mastering the art of multitracking his own voice. It's tempting to think that the hard work was done there-- Beam established a new approach and made a great album in the process-- but Kiss Each Other Clean, the full-band follow-up, is in some ways even more ambitious than its predecessor. He's reaching in a few new directions here, pushing himself hard as a singer, and taking risks, some of which pan out and a few of which don't.
The ongoing journey of Sam Beam from bedroom mystic to ringleader of a slick stadium indie rock band is completed on 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean. While the previous Iron & Wine album, The Shepherd's Dog, was also very produced and pro-sounding, this album is huge. Beam, a cast of many, and producer Brian Deck have embellished the songs with a ton of studio tricks, a wide variety of instruments from flute to squelchy old synths, and a tightly arranged, loosely flowing feel that anyone who was initially enraptured by Beam’s early recordings might be hard-pressed to recognize.
When the inevitable I Love The Early 2000s special airs on VH1 in a couple of years, the program will no doubt feature Aziz Ansari or some even fresher-faced comic waxing goofily about that scene in Garden State, where the guy from Scrubs cuddles post-coitus with the princess from the bad Star Wars movies to the tender soundtrack of Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights. ” By that time, The Postal Service will have issued a dominating comeback album, restoring Ben Gibbard to twee-king status. Zooey Deschanel will duet on a couple of tracks, and The O.
There’s nothing remarkable about embracing the commercial sophistication of soft rock in a cultural landscape littered with the transitory treasures of mom’s attic. That brand of rummage sale nostalgia is the stated goal of Samuel Beam, better known as Iron & Wine, on his first album for the brothers Warner, Kiss Each Other Clean. He told Spin that it “sounds like the music people heard in their parent’s car growing up… that early-to-mid-‘70s FM, radio-friendly music”.
Make no mistake, Sam Beam is not singing to you anymore. He’s no longer in your bedroom, every creak and fan whir audible to your keen ears. He’s not even in his bedroom anymore. And no, he isn’t making sweet, passionate, delicate love to you with his voice (Sorry, ladies . . . and guys). You ….
A fuller, friskier record than anything Beam has captured before. Louis Pattison 2011 The Sam Beam that we hear on Iron & Wine’s fourth album is a figure quite distinct from the one that first greeted us on his 2002 debut. Said record, The Creek Drank the Cradle, cast Beam as a rustic, backwoods sort, a Will Oldham-type figure with wild beard and collection of banjo-plucking songs that sounded like they might have been maturing in oak casks in the Appalachians for the last century or two.
Although the pace has been piecemeal over nearly a decade, Sam Beam certainly can’t be faulted for the stylistic progression and artistic reach he has extended for Iron & Wine since 2002’s lovely The Creek Drank The Cradle debut. It could have been all too easy for Beam to have continually mined that said first album’s lo-fi co-joining of Nick Drake and Will Oldham, which would have greatly robbed his intimate rurally-charmed songwriting of career-sustaining infusions from the wider world. Hence, we’d have been deprived of the blues-folk bliss framings on 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days, the percussive Cajun-slanted charms inside 2005’s Woman King EP and the African and dub shadings of 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog.
Sam Beam, the bushy-bearded king of folk otherwise known as Iron And Wine, has gone off the rails and onto the highway. Iron And Wine’s first two studio albums, 2002’s The Creek Drank The Cradle and 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days, were whispered, love-drenched acoustic affairs, the stuff of a million dreams in woods and fields, and earned the band a devoted following. 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog marked Beam’s path out of the forest and into a more expansive, experimental, even electronic sound, pushing the boundaries of his musicianship while maintaining much of what made the band what it was.
Kiss Each Other Clean is an album of and about metamorphosis, and metamorphosis is rarely pretty or easy. The essential dilemma for Iron & Wine's fourth official full-length and major-label debut lies locked in its bookends, two compositions that refuse to realize a connection or an identity, elements that have served as hallmarks of Sam Beam's songwriting over the past decade. Opener "Walking Far From Home" flickers with a barrage of detached images, a pastiche of pastoral scenes cryptically woven in familiar Beam fashion but resonating little empathy or interaction.