Iron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
Jan 24, 2011 Issue #34 - Year End 2010 - Sufjan Stevens
Ah, the ancient, nearly lost art of quality control. After more than three years of waiting for a new Iron and Wine album, Sam Beam returns with a taut 10 tracks. One can’t imagine the finished songs, not to mention pieces and beginnings and endings, that didn’t make the cut. What remains is a strong collection of songs made to appear looser than Beam’s surprising The Shepherd’s Dog.
Beam suggests this new breezy feeling with energetic bass lines, soulful singing, and even a sax line and solo on “Me and Lazarus.” Of course, this being Iron and Wine, each note and melody is so perfectly placed that the relaxed sound doesn’t recall a one-off, session-player feel, just someone who listened to a ton of them and went to painstaking effort to do something similar.
Somehow Beam pulls off the variety without making Kiss Each Other Clean feel disjointed or forced. The funk of “Monkeys Uptown” (well, as truly funk as Beam can get—the predominant instrument sounds like a vibraphone) gives way to the doo-wop chorus of “Half Moon,” and then the fantastic imagery and wild instrumentation of “Rabbit Will Run.” All three songs excel on their own merits but speak to one another. Part of this is that Beam understands his limits, and knows when to pull the reins a bit, such as during the jumbled funk of “Big Burned Hand” when he transitions into a crystal clear piano and then returns to the song’s main themes once the listener’s been given a chance to catch his breath.
Further uniting everything is Beam’s terrific voice, which has never sounded smoother or suppler. “Godless Brother in Love” is the closest Beam will ever come to gospel, but the song is a gorgeous, lilting beauty, with some of his most purposeful lyrics, “Lay down that rose and fold the flag/She hears money and taps that broken freedom bell.”
While The Shepherd’s Dog announced Beam as something much more than the quiet troubadour of his early work, Kiss Each Other Clean further opens doors; it seems there’s not much that Beam can’t try. What doesn’t work, we never hear. (www.ironandwine.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 8/10