By Quinton Saxby
First, a plea to any truly loyal, protective Iron and Wine fans—do not panic, Sam Beam has not sold out. We might be a little surprised at first at his breaching Fleetwood Mac territory, but I think we would have all lost something if Sam Beam were forced into covering Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” for the rest of his career. We should thank our lucky stars this is not the case; I know I am in the minority in saying this, but this is a horrible cover.
Iron and Wine’s new album is retro chic. Kiss Each Other Clean harkens back to a time of pop acoustic rock filled with saxophone riffs, angelic harmonies and the occasional sappy ballad. This album, although it pays homage to the strange obsession the ‘80s had with corny sax breakdowns and breaks new ground, all because of Sam Beam’s risky but mature song writing.
I think Beam has the answer to our indie music crisis: better harmonies, more lyrical depth, more collaboration. Oh, also, we should listen to a LOT more Fleetwood Mac for inspiration.
Notable tracks on this album include “Godless Brother in Love” and “Half Moon,” because they offer interesting, complex harmonies. We find lyrical depth in “Walking Far from Home” and “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me” (the last and the best track on the album).
There is a growing interest in pop folk and the complex, perfectly tuned harmonies this hybrid genre incorporates. (See both the Avett Brothers and Fleet Foxes for pure examples of this new trend). But Iron and Wine seems to be in the vanguard, surpassing these other acts because Beam knows how to seamlessly incorporate harmonies without making them the “be all, end all” of a track.
I do not think it would be going too far to say that this album borders on the mystical, at least lyrically. There are some religious undertones within the strange and ethereal melodies, but the lyrics are a little too cryptic to trace any real religious sentiment, Christian or otherwise. The closest we might get to some form of religious revelation comes in the last track, the strongest song on the album, a two-part, seven-minute anthem. As a closer, this track illustrates Beam’s talent as well as his burgeoning ambition. His talent always points in a new, intriguing direction.
Sam Beam has, in a way, gone electric. But we should not feel accosted by Iron and Wine’s sudden increased use of electric guitar and strange instrumentation. Instead, we should be grateful that a modern singer-songwriter is not afraid to make creative decisions that are risky and could lose him some fans. I think the fans who stick around will not be disappointed.