January 27, 2011

Test Spins: Iron and Wine

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Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam initially picked up critical steam with 2002’s Creek Drank the Cradle, a lo-fi, pastoral, mostly whispered debut that’s sentimentality and earnestness was worthy of the praise heaped upon it. Beam’s next couple of records saw him slowly diversifying and refining his sonic palette, with “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” from 2007’s varied The Shepherd’s Dog, even being featured in one of the Twilight movies.

While Kiss Each Other Clean does see Beam expanding upon his folksy stylings, I have to admit my own personal disappointment when opener “Walking Far From Home” began with Beam’s plaintive voice over swaths of distorted electric guitar but, instead of erupting into a bloody ruckus, settles into a piano ballad far more typical of an Iron and Wine song, featuring layers of vocal harmonies and off-beat drums.

Though Kiss Each Other Clean does not result in the shoegaze masterpiece I know Iron and Wine have in them, it is far from a poor record. Beam does what he does best, writing heartfelt folk songs with suggestive, artistic lyrics. The sunny bounce of “Tree By The River” is abetted by lyrics that evoke summer romance and the reckless abandon of youth, but never outright tell a story. “Monkeys Uptown,” as the name suggests, has suitably naturalistic instumentation riding atop a sort of bossanova groove.

Iron and Wine, having distanced themselves from the stark recording style of their early releases, falter where similar artists have succeeded. Whereas others used greater studio capacities to record gorgeously orchestrated pieces of pop music without sacrificing their unique lyrical voice, Beam and company rarely swing for the pop fences, content with their sometimes meandering folk-rock. Kiss Each Other Clean turns out to be an adequate, interesting release that does little to challenge its listeners or provide visceral thrills.

Original Author: James Rainis