Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine (Warner Bros. Records, 2011. 44 minutes)

Iron & Wine is the stage named of songwriter Sam Beam. Born in South Carolina, Beam now resides in Austin, Texas. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Commonwealth University and received an MFA degree from Florida State University. Beam signed with the record label, Sub Pop, and  subsequently releasing his first three records – The Creek Drank the Cradle, Our Endless Numbered Days, and The Shepherd’s Dog. The current record is his first on Warner Bros. Records.

Traffic Jam; Got More Cars Than a Beach Got Sand

For some reason, Dave Matthews receives a disproportionately high amount of hatred from younger generations of music lovers. I sometimes feel bad admitting my enjoyment of the Dave Matthews Band in front of local musicians, as if mere mention of that name formulates a giant dunce cap on my head with arrows pointing toward the corner of a room. I wonder if people just hate saxophones. Well, Iron & Wine’s new record, Kiss Each Other Clean challenges the assumptions of indie kids everywhere. This album – released by a songwriter hallowed almost unanimously by people who claim to have the best taste in music – sounds remarkably similar to good ol’ DMB; it even has a saxophone!

Kiss Each Other Clean represents a further step in Iron & Wine’s path toward a completed sound. The two earliest records, The Creek Drank the Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days, demonstrated the basic foundation of Sam Beam’s music – hushed vocals floating lightly over a finger-picked guitar.
Next, The Shepherd’s Dog found a developing band around Beam’s atmospheric vocals and guitar work; the record announced the introduction of drums, steel guitar, percussion, and piano.

Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger, Louder?

Keeping these elements, Kiss Each Other Clean provides a further step: a cornucopia of instrumentation such as saxophone solos, synthesizers, wah-wahed electric guitar, and perhaps most importantly, projected vocals.
No longer is Iron & Wine defined by vocals at decibel levels discerned slightly above a whisper.  Kiss Each Other Clean finds Sam Beam belting with mixed results. Although certain songs exhibit the patented hushed tones, it is clear that Beam begins this new expedition with a newly-timbred voice.
Lyrically, Kiss Each Other Clean continues Beam’s tendency to mix emotional and narrative styles. “Walking far From Home,” the album opener, expresses this dualism when he sings,

I was walking far from home / Where the names were not burned along the wall / Saw a building high as heaven / But the door was so small / I saw rain clouds, little babies / And a bridge that had tumbled to the ground / I saw sinners making music / And I’ve dreamt of that sound

Beam’s lyricism shines as well in “Rabbit Will Run,”

We’ve all envied grace at the end of the day / And we’ve armed all the children we thought we betrayed / And I still have a prayer, though too few occasions to pray / And just judgment is just like a that cup we share / I’ll jump over the wall and I’ll wait for you there / Well passed the weeds in our vision of things to come / We’ve all found a reason for hiding the gun / And we’ve helped out a few if we’ve hurt anyone / And I still have a prayer and so be it I’ve done what I’ve done

Utilizing the senses, Iron & Wine transplants the listener to a scene. Less meant to express a specific ideology, the lyrics become a setting for the instrumentation.

I Don’t Want the Beat, I Want a Kick Drum

Nevertheless, Kiss Each Other Clean contains a couple of weaknesses. First, the quality of production on the record lacks some high-end polish. More specifically, the drums sound slightly weak in the mix. In places where I expect some percussive intensity, I hear the drums playing what I want to hear but translated poorly in the mix. A well-mixed authoritative snap of a snare drum and the rumble of a kick carry songs to the pantheon of quality.
Photo by Yadalith

Second, Sam Beam has a tendency to repeat melodies well past their freshness date. “Walking far From Home” possesses a beautiful melody that is repeated for almost 5 minutes. Perhaps even worse, Beam codas lyrical variations of “become” for 4 minutes at the end of the addictive jam, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me.” While I still enjoy both songs, creating some variation in the tunes would have made them much better.

It is your move hipster kids. Kiss Each Other Clean presents a new Iron & Wine – saxophone included. Although the foundation remains somewhat similar, Sam Beam’s new record expands into the dreaded territory of adult alternative. I personally enjoy and recommend the record, but I admit that I also like Dave Matthews.



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