Music Reviews
Kiss Each Other Clean

Iron & Wine Kiss Each Other Clean

(4AD/Warner Bros.) Rating - 8/10

In due course, Sam “Iron & Wine” Beam was going to detain and change his path. With a deft ear for acoustic melody, his earlier efforts were hushed, autumnal depictions rich with communal stories pertaining to range-bound landscapes. As sundown arrived, Beam’s cooing vocals would sway with a passive cadence, ready to tuck in the worries after a long, arduous day.  Little did we know, The Shepherd’s Dog unexpectedly jumped across the yard to disturb the peace. But this pup would lock its jaw with a friendly stance; ready to show its audience the various tricks it had up his sleeve. 

It was only natural that Beam, just like his counterpoint folk revivalist Sufjan Stevens, would want to evolve into a full-fledged artist. Unlike Steven’s pan-ethnic ambitions, Beam was always puritanical in heart, at ease with his dense lyricism and effortless string plucks. Some might say that The Shepherd’s Dog had overstayed its welcome. Nevertheless, he had achieved the act of binding a heavy assortment of influences and converting them into one cohesive sound. Behind the Afro-Caribbean influences, Americana instrumentation, and bluesy interludes, Beam’s stream-of-consciousness words and rustic susceptibilities were still the force of attraction. 

No stranger to divulging his religious upbringing, Beam continues to show deference to his major musical influence. A self-proclaimed Agnostic, he incarnates into a Holy being in Walking Far From Home, preaching a most unique Church service consisting of soft-toned piano keys to attenuate the use of looped vocals and synth textures. Those textures turn into playful effects and wobbles in Me and Lazarus, which flows with soulful swagger a la white boy blues. Although minimal in sound, there’s a lot going on – tight string picking and sax blows appear and disappear while recounting a story of blind optimism, since our virtuous character proclaims himself as a liberated loser that can roam

Thus far, Beam’s ruminations were concentrated on intangible observation and everyday conversation. Contrary to The Shepherd’s Dog, his mythological heroes are played around in a roomier sounding set of songs. Beam returns to embrace Jamaican reggae in Monkeys Uptown, which centers on augmented, wah wah guitars and electronic percussion led by bass heavy thumps and sporadic marimba hits. Most prominent is the chilled dub of Half Moon, in which the palpable use of McCarthy-like riffage and overlapping guitars adorn the pulsating bass vibrations and harmonized background vocals. Beam treats these complicated arrangements with precision, emphasizing a sparseness that distinguishes and never disrupts.

The equivalent of changing radio stations in his more youthful days, Kiss Each Other Clean is the result of Beam uncontrollably turning the radio knob until finding the right tune in his head. In fact, he may be skimming through each station with the intent of gathering everything he can collect in his head.  Evoking Stevie Wonder’s Have a Talk with God, Big Burned Hand unabashedly breaks out some show biz sax amidst some succulent rhythm and blues. Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me cuts the Southern-fried fat but can’t camouflage the unmistakable guitar flourishes of seventies acts such as Little Feat and JJ Cale. In fact, the only time in which Beam goes back to his former self is in Godless Brother in Love, a serene ballad which only needs a harp and variable piano keys to make it heartfelt.

Once again, Beam demands his audience to follow him towards the road less taken. Whether those choices are calculated or untried, he steadily shifts directions, confident in that his listeners will follow suit. Kiss Each Other Clean isn’t as far removed from his previous effort, as it showcases a more than self-sufficient songwriter who prefers to discover the fruits of collaboration. When listening, the young might grow a few hairs, while the old may rekindle their wonder years. But that’s the beauty of Iron & Wine: his seamless genre bending will always transcend generational gaps. Content with his current maturation, you believe him when he states that he's just become a glad man singing a song.