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.
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.