Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Sam Beam’s departure from Sub Pop can’t have arrived at a more fitting time for him; his band and his style have outgrown their humble beard-folk roots and he is reaching at full stretch for a more robust pop sound.
Weaving his newfangled horizontal, slowly ascending melodies around prominent harmonies and tribal drums. This isn’t to say the album rhythms are adventurous or burly, because they aren’t. They simply but eloquently command attention through their ear-catching timbres, exemplified in “Rabbit Will Run” and “Me and Lazarus”, which to some extent are the duo of the album. It is significant to note that these both share that steady rise of the horizontal melody Beam seems to favour on this album.
In a similar ramification of Beam’s old trustworthy guitar and vocal song-writing echelon, the songs stand at the forefront, with seventies pop arrangements built around the chords and melodies, sometimes memorably, sometimes not so much. There are a few clearly intentionally improvised disjointed saxophone and flute solos, not to mention the most bizarre wheezy recorder/pan-pipe riff I’ve ever heard from a supposed “folk artist” on “Me and Lazarus”, which unconsciously evokes that primal instrument from the opening sequence of Gangs of New York. But this is a strong indicator of all the change circulating the album.
O’ what are these religious themes Sam Beam? Lazarus, Godless brothers and heaven? Most of the tracks have a solid reliance on pretty impressionist lyrics and in general it is notable and nice, but the opening track in particular brings to mind the list-like lyrical style of Dylan’s “A Hard Rains Gonna Fall”, simply reeling through a list of the images that Beam has seen, and it gets pretty tiresome. Though I fully appreciate the effort Beam goes to in employing memorable lyric devices like alliteration, a feat which he deals out quite generously across the album.
The stand-out track is easily “Godless Brother In Love”, since from the minute the gospel starts my ears rejoice and remain attentive throughout, whereas a few other tracks crucially misplace this treatment. Taking a few more melodic leaps than perhaps his voice is comfortable with, the fragility of Beam’s persona is alluring and accentuated when complimented by these particular harmonies and cadences.
The Sheperd’s Dog will always be the benchmark by which Iron & Wine’s subsequent products are measured, and although there are a few daring pop “oo’s” and “nah nah’s” to add to the overall poppy vibe of Kiss Each Other Clean, ultimately the result is not quite as convincing as the 2007 gem, but still worth numerous listens and guaranteed to please.
-James Godwin, January 24th, 2011
- Watch: Iron & Wine’s “Take Away Show” (pitchfork.com)