Iron & Wine: Ghost on Ghost (NONESUCH) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Issue #45 - Winter 2013 - PhoenixIron & Wine

Ghost on Ghost


Apr 12, 2013 Iron & Wine Bookmark and Share

Iron & Wine’s last two records—2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean—found leader Sam Beam diving into uncharted musical waters after the calm, acoustic songwriting of Iron & Wine’s first two albums. And while The Shepherd’s Dog was largely a hit or miss affair, Kiss Each Other Clean realized all the promise of his new sonic worldview in songs such as the instrumentally eccentric “Rabbit Will Run” or the near funk of “Monkeys Uptown.”

Iron & Wine’s fifth album is a much more subdued affair that sits in direct opposition to the expansive sonic push and pull of Kiss Each Other Clean. After the calm but bouncy and horn-inflected melody of the opening track, “Caught in the Briars,” Ghost on Ghost relaxes into a gentle tone that hardly varies throughout the rest of the album. “Low Light Buddy of Mine” is minimalist, seemingly led only by a drumbeat and some errant saxophone. “Winter Prayers” is all piano, acoustic guitar, strings, and lush harmonies. And “The Desert Babbler” is placid, string-led soft rock. The songs here are all very pleasant, but the problem is that they don’t go anywhere. There is little tension to release, few cathartic moments, no climax. One might counter with the argument that Beam’s first two Iron & Wine albums were hushed acoustic affairs, but those albums were cozy and brought you into Beam’s world as if the songwriter were playing directly to you from the corner of his bed. With the exception of the magnificent closing track, “Baby Center Stage,” which finds Beam crooning to beatific piano and crying guitar, Ghost on Ghost is not able to relate such an intimate experience.

Beam had said that this album represented moving on from the “anxious tension” of his last two albums, and no one would begrudge him this opportunity. But from a simple accessibility standpoint, the songs on Ghost on Ghost are not as strong as those from his past. “Anxious tension” suited him well, as did the bedroom songwriting of his earlier albums. (

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