Review Summary: Beam and his new phoenix-born-of-flames sound work incredibly well together. Though his foray into poppier jingles have led him further from where he used to be, Iron & Wine all but suffers from it.
September in the year of “The Shepherd's Dog” saw the release of Microsoft’s Halo 3. The Red Sox sweeped the World Series, and Rowling set her rabid fans thrashing into stores for her final book. The four years since have surely seen changes for Sam Beam’s many fans, and it should come with no surprises that he spent his own time holed up in a watershed. Iron & Wine’s latest output is a far cry from the discography preceding it, opting to abandon Sam Beam’s whisper-and-pluck dynamic for something that sounds much more sprawling, layered with the ups and downs of four more years of life. ‘A summer record’ wouldn’t be an entirely truthful label, “Kiss Each Other Clean” still speaks with a pensive flair for storytelling. Nor is its brogue entirely folk – though Beam might not intend to be so polarizing, his latest output will be exactly that. Beam’s musical turning point is etched in neon rainbows onto a scratchboard record cover to set the tone for something very different indeed.
Much like the etched-out album art, Beam sounds as though his feet have been soaking in riverbed water for the duration of "Kiss Each Other Clean" - far from his signature whispering, he sounds laid-back, infatuated with balmy weather and dribbling with a dimple-grinned cheerfulness. “Walking Far From Home” steps forward with an optimistic gait, Beam watches the world around him teeming with life while a soaring gospel walks behind. “Me And Lazarus” snatches pages from Noah Lennox’s book, organic squibs of woozy synth bubble around a saxophone spine and eventually simmer into a gentle funky rhythm. Not everything is so unfamiliar – “Kiss Each Other’s” tracks with acoustic roots at least attempt to call back to fans who wanted something folkier. There aren’t many bones thrown their way from this record, but the lazy blossom of “Godless Brother” is a wistful summer ballad difficult to turn away from, as its bridge swells with angelic harmonies.
"Big Burned Hand" shifts the torque quite quickly, it swamps the Americana Seventies streets into jazzy marshes, popping with a cheerful funk pound. Flourishes of smooth saxophone pump life into the bumping percussion, making it one of the busiest tracks on the record. “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me” closes the album, choosing groovy over slow-burning for its first half before braking into a four-and-a-half minute coda, slowly fizzing into a cacophony of textures and layers. Beam and his new phoenix-born-of-flames sound on the whole work incredibly well together. Though his foray into poppier jingles have led him further from where he used to be, Iron & Wine all but suffers from it - Beam’s musical stride is much bigger and more adventurous. “Kiss Each Other Clean” threatens to take Iron & Wine’s stories through newer points on the American map, the time until his next release surely already filled with much more ‘wandering bard’ fiction to come.