The eloquent simplicity of Iron & Wine, the name which precedes the impeccable songwriting talents of Sam Beam, has resonated in countless hearts as the craftsmanship of a modern musical genius. This genius has for many been articulated solely by trademark whispers and soft guitar. Since 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, however, Iron & Wine has traded in the hushed musings of Beam for a progressive amalgam of styles in a full-band. Kiss Each Other Clean is somewhat of a sophomore release for Beam’s new Iron & Wine – complete with partial awkwardness – and similar by comparison to Leonard Cohen’s bizarre introduction of a full-band in the mid-70’s [though this is infinitely more listenable than Cohen’s releases at the time].
The record begins with the gospel-tinged “Walking far From Home,” which seems to read poetic digressions directly from Beam’s own Moleskine [a la “The Trapeze Swinger”]. Other songs are a bit like trying to appreciate several dust-covered, antique-smelling suits in the Salvation Army.
For instance, “Me and Lazarus” leads Beam’s classic harmonies over an apparently stale, dragging band – but Beam makes the suit work.
In fact, Beam’s disregard for being approved by the hipster crowd is probably the most rewarding experience of the song [of course they’ll like it anyway].
On “Big Burned Hand,” however, the same disregard diminishes the song to a tasteless vocal effect and an oafishly-played saxophone.
Luckily, one still gets a more refined taste of Beam’s seemingly effortless folk songwriting in the more traditional “Half Moon” and “Glad Man Singing.” As always, Beam never abuses the power of nostalgia; “Tree by the River” emulates the maturity of his retrospective nature flawlessly in the line, “Time isn’t kind or unkind, you liked to say/But I wonder to who/what it is you’re saying today.”
There are some truly beautiful – as is with nearly any Iron & Wine record – moments on Kiss Each Other Clean. “Godless Brother in Love” immediately ranks among Beam’s most beautiful, sacred works. If only to hear this song, the record as a whole is worth the purchase.
Despite its bizarre nature at some times, [album-closer “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me” evokes the feeling of early-70’s prog. rock], Sam Beam has created a record still worthy of the Iron & Wine moniker; Kiss Each Other Clean is an album progressive enough to admit its faults and deliver when it’s needed.
David Hogg is a third-year Secondary English Education major and can be reached at DH670696@wcupa.edu.