Review Summary: Beam proves that his feet fit these larger shoes quite well.Kiss Each Other Clean
is the boldest step Iron & Wine has ever taken. Trading in Sam Beam’s trademark acoustic sound for a more multi-faceted approach is bound to come with its share of risks, including the polarization of his ever loyal fan base. He has pushed the boundaries of his music with his major label debut, spurring a transformation towards a style that is completely fresh and, remarkably, every bit as fascinating as his celebrated back catalog. The result is an album unlike anything Iron & Wine has created to date, one that is saturated in a pool of exciting new ideas and musical directions.
Ardent and lush sounding harmonies permeate Iron & Wine's fourth LP. Whereas his prior works remained firmly entrenched in mellow acoustic tunes, Kiss Each Other Clean
stimulates each of our senses with an atmosphere that oozes with lazy, tropical instrumentation and that liberally dabbles in electronic effects. “Half Moon” has the aura of a classic oldie, featuring a rhythm that is driven by backing serenades of “do-wop, ba-da” and gentle acoustic strumming. “Godless Brother In Love” has quite possibly the most beautiful bridge vocals of any Iron & Wine song, offering up gorgeous hums and chants with crystal clarity. This is an album that is defined by its combination of breathtaking harmony and atmospheric electronic-pop elements. Whether it is the subtle aquatic feel of “Me and Lazarus” or the heavy jazz vibe that permeates “Big Burned Hand”, Kiss Each Other Clean
shows its sonic palette to be both broad and incredibly varied.
Through all of the newfound experimentation and evolution, Iron & Wine is still able to maintain its most captivating quality: the sincere, angelic vocals of Sam Beam. Luckily, one needs not venture far into Kiss Each Other Clean
to discover this. “Walking Far From Home” introduces the record with a delectable melody and incredibly memorable chorus, all of which is given depth by prophetic lines such as “I saw blood and a bit of it was mine / I saw children in a river / But their lips were still dry, lips were still dry.” Soon after, Beam bolsters his repertoire with the momentous “Tree By The River”, a mid-tempo ballad driven by a low beat, chimes, acoustic guitars, and plenty of soulful harmonizing. Beam’s voice has undergone something of a transformation, albeit minor, as the whispers and chants of old have been ushered out by the arrival of pristine confidence. On Kiss Each Other Clean
, Sam Beam’s voice is at the forefront of the music, dictating its tempo, guiding its sway, and ultimately contributing to the success of the album's other experimental qualities.
While Iron & Wine’s musical progression is successfully and fully realized, it is also the primary reason that old school fans will find Kiss Each Other Clean
slightly hollow…perhaps even artificial. The personal touch accompanied by Beam’s acoustic plucking and soft-spoken nature have been largely abandoned for poppy, slightly more mainstream terrain. Part of what has always made Iron & Wine so relatable was the sense of Beam’s emotional proximity, like he was just a stone’s throw away from everything you were feeling. Surely, listeners will take solace in his new messages as well, but the pathway to that relationship is now convoluted by layers of additional instruments, harmonies, and effects that were previously absent when it was just Beam and his guitar that did all of the speaking. Still, Iron & Wine's latest effort shows that Sam Beam is capable of expanding and updating his sound into poppier territory without suffering many ill effects. Kiss Each Other Clean
is optimistic, laid back, and almost
as personal as his past endeavors. The change in his music is more apparent than ever, and while he may not demonstrate his acoustic folk side quite so well, Beam proves that his feet fit these larger shoes quite well.