Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

Album cover
Folk, Indie Pop
Warner Bros. Records
Iron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean Review rating:
3.5
User rating:
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

For all the outcries and “sell-out” gripes Sam Beam may have had hurled his way after the release of The Shepherd's Dog (2007) we've certainly spent a whole lot of time listening to cheap knock-offs in the time between then and now. In truth the group of disparagers was of a miniscule size at best. Not only was the record easily Iron & Wine's best (still is) but it was one of the years finest records; a claim that wasn't all too disputed and probably still isn't. Yet what was important about the record's release was the almost reckless nature with which Beam took to his recording process. Multiple vocal tracks, tinges of neo-soul, discordant, brooding folk, classic prog rock and African pop; along with Beam's distinctively serene tenor, all culminated to something wholly separate from his earlier, acoustic southern-fried folk. Yet Beam never lost his essence and Iron & Wine transitioned more than successfully from novelty act to a full-fledged indie-icon. With The Shepherd's Dog there was no longer a question of: “Can he really go anywhere after Our Endless Numbered Days?” or “Can Iron & Wine be more than an acoustic guitar, down-home colloquialisms and a very, very sweet beard?” With an emphatic “yes!” The Shepherd's Dog was lodged into our atmosphere—hell bent on a fiery descent into our psyches, for better or worse.

Now in 2011 Beam is less a trendsetter and more an accepted archetype. With his fourth full-length though, Sam pushes himself further from the pack of like-minded, similarly beared folk-heroes to be. Much like the aforementioned Shepherd's Dog, Kiss Each Other Clean finds Iron & Wine expanding his sound and experimenting more with his sonic palette. Pan Flutes, recorders, synths, blaring brass, E-Street-esque keys all make their appearance en mass and Beam cannot be faulted for trying. Though unlike his previous record: the mash-up is less fluid and Beam's go-for-broke ethos with his influences can at times be taxing—or just plain fall flat (recorder break-downs on “Rabbit Will Run” nearly derail an otherwise fantastic song.) Yet you don't need to look farther than the delicate ballad “Godless Brother In Love” for proof of Beam's song-writing chops and furthermore how well he works with a seemingly minimalist repertoire. The track is almost transcendental in its beauty and yet totes nary more than an acoustic chord progression, a fine piano melody and Beam's elegant vocals.

This loss almost of Beam's simplicity is all at once relieving and agitating. Though not nearly as annoying as many of those following in his foot-steps: there's still something to be said for the tamer Iron & Wine albums. That he was able to convey images of a morally destitute yet innately communal American culture seen through the eyes of an honest troubadour in such an unforgivingly loving manner with little more than an acoustic guitar was impressive to be sure. Not to mention the man's lyric sheet, already one of the brighter you're apt to fine, has lost none of its radiance. But in truth, Iron & Wine were in desperate need of progress and the life his art has taken on the past few years is almost as impressive as it is rewarding. Yet Kiss Each Other Clean cannot help but seem like a transitional record—as though Sam were testing some new waters before a head-on dive.

But to reiterate: You can't fault him for trying; atleast an attempt was made and if this album is an indication of anything it's that Beam's artistic growth and increasing aptitude for grandiose pop tunes will only continue to advance. Kiss Each Other Clean may not be that unequivocal proof but it is surely a continued step in the right direction. And if nothing else provides all the more reason to keep Beam, and his beard, on constant watch.

1. Walking Far From Home
2. Me And Lazarus
3. Tree By The River
4. Monkeys Uptown
5. Half Moon
6. Rabbit Will Run
7. Godless Brother In Love
8. Big Burned Hand
9. Glad Man Singing
10. Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me

Iron & Wine is the stage and recording name of folk rock singer and composer Sam Beam (born July 26, 1974). He currently resides in Dripping Springs, Texas, outside Austin. He has released three studio albums, several EPs and singles, as well as a few download-only releases, which include a live album (a recording of his 2005 Bonnaroo performance). The name Iron & Wine is taken from a dietary supplement named "Beef Iron & Wine" that he found in a general store.

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