Iron & Wine is the stage name used by artist Samuel Beam. The term ‘artist’ rather than ‘musician’ is no mistake – he holds a BA in Visual Arts and has also taught film at the University of Miami. It’s not surprising, then, that his music is imaginative, engaging, and aesthetically stimulating.
His 15th album, Kiss Each Other Clean, is no exception. Fans will be pleasantly surprised to learn that this album will not banish Beam to the graveyard of artists whose work suffered after moving to Warner Bros. (because really, how great can a label be if they’ve signed Heidi Montag?) – while the album does not represent a challenging listen by any means, it is a wonderful representation of Beam’s work.
Unfortunately, the songs have not entirely escaped the Warner influence. This collection is quite a bit more pop-driven than past works: while this may result in higher sales, fans yearning for new and creative tracks may not be as satisfied as they hoped. In an interview with SPIN, Beam describes the album as “a focused pop record… that early-to-mid-70s FM, radio-friendly music” – enough said. Disappointing tracks include “Big Burned Hand”, which sounds like background music for a porno without a budget for razors (that is, until it gets to a piano-heavy interlude – hot stuff). Other tracks (“Your Fake Name is Good Enough”, “Monkeys Uptown”), while not strictly disappointing, are too familiar to inspire any sort of visceral reaction.
The album uses a large variety of instruments and electronic effects to achieve an eclectic sound that is somewhat reminiscent of a 1970’s opium den. Slightly more relevant reference? This album wouldn’t have been out of place in the Across the Universe movie. Not relevant enough yet? Okay – you know that party you were at last weekend? Remember how the bathroom smelled kind of like a skunk? They were probably listening to this album in there. In other words, despite its too-pop elements and annoying familiarity, the collection as a whole delivers enough stimulation for the more ‘relaxed’ listener. “Half Moon” is a good example of this: while it scared me a little bit with the lyric “Where are we when the twilight comes” (it reminded me a little too forcefully of the fact that one of his songs somehow ended up on a certain soundtrack), the song’s lilting electric guitar and almost-absent percussion is a pleasing and gentle listen.
“Rabbit Will Run” strides the fence between that happy place Beam has found and the land of angry familiarity. While the song’s basic hook is almost indiscernible from Bryan Adam’s “Cloud No 9”, the odd interludes of some sort of slide whistle and the images it evokes make this track something else entirely: the tune is familiar, but the artistic presentation of it renders the song in a new light. This is where the album shines in a way that few can. Because of Beam’s holistic artistic vision, the tracks rise above familiarity and settle firmly in l’eau de creativity. Thus, the album in its entirety is entertaining, pleasing, and artistically stimulating. While it may not be the best work Beam has produced, it’s definitely worth a listen.