Iron And Wine – [Album]

Sunday, 20 March 2011

For his major label debut, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine told Spin that he wanted to make a record that “sounds like the music people heard in their parents' car growing up… that early-to-mid-‘70s FM, radio-friendly music.” I'd argue that this has always been at the core of his sound anyway, starting with the stripped down recordings of his earlier work and continuing through the country-infused sound of 2007's The Shepard's Dog. He returns with Kiss Each Other Clean, which is still very much a Seventies singer-songwriter pop record, but it's a more adventurous one too. It features bongos, African infused rhythms, funky pianos, flutes and sax, and strong vocal performances from Beam. This is the sound of an emerging artist; one that is becoming confident in both his craft and its' performance. Kiss Each Other Clean attempts to be Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and Fleetwood Mac all in one record and, while it's not without its' faults, it is a very pretty record on which Beam quite competently achieves his goal of re-creating that "early-to-mid 70's FM, radio-friendly music" sound.

The standouts on Kiss Each Other Clean emulate this Seventies sound with ease. "Tree By The River," the album's first single, sounds like a long-lost Fleetwood Mac single featuring huge back-up vocals, airy keyboards, acoustic guitars and a tale of young love with Mary Anne – a "potty mouthed girl.” It's an appropriate choice as the first single because it encapsulates everything Bean set out to achieve on the album. Further, on "Glad Man Singing," the opening chords and bongos immediately recall Cat Stevens. It is a great example of the more spirited and confident vocal performances that are present throughout the album. Other standouts include "Monkey's Uptown” – which is reminiscent of Paul Simon, if Paul Simon would ever dare to drop an F-bomb – and "Half Moon," which is probably the closest track to Bean's back-catalogue but still fits well into the Seventies radio theme; especially with its "doo wop" backing vocals.

That's all well and good, but there are a few moments on Kiss Each Other Clean which would qualify as odd inclusions in anyone's book. The opening thirty seconds of "Walking Far From Home," for example, have more in common with the alt-rock genre than the Seventies FM sound Beam is supposedly chasing, and that the song appears as the opening track on the album is pretty confusing and disorienting. The backing vocals redeem the song initially but, as it progresses, the track feels cluttered with too many sounds and little in the way of substance. The second track, "Me & Lazarus" is also a miss. While it has some nice sax on it, the song's hook is the weakest on the album and might have been better sequenced later on. Despite the slow start, the rest of the album delivers consistently from that point on.

Kiss Each Other Clean does feel like a bit of a genre exercise for Beam at times, but it's balanced by a genuine respect and admiration for the genre and a sense of discovery at  the possibilities in his own work. Fans of the intimacy of his earlier albums might not immediately connect with the ambitious sounds on Kiss Each Other Clean, but won't be able to deny that he has crafted a beautiful pop record that will sound great in the summer sun.



Kiss Each Other Clean
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.