Review Summary: In your restless days I got lost. I got saved.
Folk music is quite the enigma. To a certain extent, the genre is a breeding pool for incessant copy-cats and overall lazy songwriters. But at the same time folk music has had a long history for birthing some of the most honest and breathtakingly simple albums. Sean Beam, or as he is more commonly known, Iron & Wine, has been creating some of the smoothest and relaxing music for more than a decade, a feat not common place in today’s age. Forever a man of progress, Beams found ways to subtly change his sound from record to record, and while this record is not without a few forgivable awkward moments, Ghost on Ghost
is truly a record that Sean Beam should be proud of creating.
Although Ghost on Ghost is not an entirely different entity than 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean, there still is an abundance of progress shown in a mere two years. Where Kiss Each Other Clean was a record that saw Iron & Wine veer down a path of fleshed out music and extravagant composition, Ghost on Ghosts furthers the extensive instrumentation, something made obvious nearly immediately as “The Dessert Babbler” contains horns and jazz influences throughout the entire track. Ghost on Ghosts is indeed a record that sees Beam further his interest in pop tunes, while employing many instances of Jazz/ R&B references, references that are too plenty to discuss their entirety. And as to be expected, this more prominent infusion of jazz is not without a few hiccups, as occasionally the abundance of horns and swung segments is overbearing and tedious.
Where past records embody the term “minimalistic” in nearly every sense of the term, nearly every song found on Ghost on Ghost is an upbeat, expounded track, implementing a bevy of different instrumentation; the first track “Caught in the Briars” has horns, bells, guitars, drums and many other instruments throughout, all before suddenly shifting tempos and style for the last thirty seconds. While this approach may be off-putting to long-term fans of Iron & Wine, the new direction seems to fit the mellow, dreamlike crooning of Sean Beam. While the record has a definite pop element to it and is more often than not lyrically related to love, there is an absence of shallowness often associated with the pop-music. Nowhere is this unlikely merging of pop sensibilities, smooth jazz and deep lyricism found than standout track “Low Light Buddy Of Mine”, in which Beams seems to offer a warning of rekindling a lost love: I love you and you love me. There’s new fruit humming in the old fruit tree.
Though this record is an obvious refinement of the sound present on Kiss Each Other Clean, that is not to say it should be written off. The songs are poppier than they have ever been, and there is seemingly little homage to past works, but Ghost on Ghost still contains familiar aspects. Beam beautifully swoons through every track, often implementing a classic falsetto and spurting off familiar lyrics. While this record is admittedly an entirely upbeat affair, there is no lack of substance and personal-ness, as it seems with Ghost on Ghost, Beam is writing music entirely for himself. And rightfully so.