Album Review: Iron and Wine

By: Anne Vickman

KissEachOtherClean_WarnerBrothersRecordsUnconditional love, thy name is Iron and Wine. We’re quite certain we’ve found someone we can grow old with in singer/songwriter Sam Beam, who released Kiss Each Other Clean on January 25, his first new album in three years (2009’s Around the Well was a collection of B-sides and previously unreleased material). With the inclusion of a wider range of instrumentation, including saxophone, fuzzed out vocals, synth, and electro effects, Beam has crafted an album that’s an evolution from his earlier work, and a welcome one at that. Indeed, in our eyes (as anyone who has ever been head over heels can understand), Beam can do no wrong.

The record is, first of all, far less perfectly suited for the post-coital bliss of a roll in the hay à la 2002’s intimate The Creek Drank the Cradle and 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days, which were, we’ll admit, the perfect start to our fairy-tale romance.

We’re happy to report that the dynamic is only better and stronger these days. Beam partnered with Tucson-based indie rockers Calexico in ’05 for In the Reins, and The Shepherd’s Dog spiced things up two years later with seductive rhythms and pulsing melodies. Now our boy is back — and still keeping things interesting. Beam isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means, just covering new ground by incorporating electronic guitar and loping, grooved bass lines on tracks like “Monkeys Uptown,” and ’70s-style rock licks in “Half Moon.”

The most powerful instrument of all, however, is Beam’s voice, which is naturally evocative whether fuzzed out on tracks like “Walking Far From Home,” or distilled with reverb and surrounded by slide whistle, as on the fluid “Rabbit Will Run.” The album’s closing track, “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me,” is a seven-minute ditty — infused with staccato brass and percussion reminiscent of Morphine — that morphs into an epic journey of plaintive metamorphosis: “We will become, become; Become the love we made.”

We were a bit disinterested in tracks like “Godless Brother in Love,” a piano-laden ballad that simply falls a bit flat. But you know what? No one is perfect, and we’ll stand by you, Iron & Wine. No matter what.