Iron & Wine : Kiss Each Other Clean

<img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ironandwinekisseachother.jpg" alt="Iron & Wine : Kiss Each Other Clean" />Iron & Wine's latest release is a long shot from the lo-fi folk fans have grown so accustomed...
Iron & Wine : Kiss Each Other Clean
7.6 Warner Bros
2011 

Iron & Wine : Kiss Each Other Clean Iron & Wine’s latest release is a long shot from the lo-fi folk fans have grown so accustomed to in Sam Beam’s early releases.  Most would find this unsurprising, but what they may not expect is Beam’s decision to also distance himself from the relatively accessible sound of The Shepherd’s Dog by delving further into experimental electronic territory.  It’s as though the constantly drifting transition in sound between albums is more for himself than for anyone else.  That’s not to say this newest batch of experimentalism isn’t welcome.  By all means, an artist who chooses to break their common ground is almost always the bravest of the bunch, and for that Iron & Wine deserve a large dose of commendation.  Whether or not this experiment works, though, is where the controversy begins to rear its ugly head.

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The biggest notable change is in the heavier dose of varying instrumentation, which ranges from jazzy saxophone interludes to synthesizer background noise accompanying the ever-present acoustic guitar.  Nonetheless, there are still some classic elements this time around as well.  Iron & Wine’s most prominent feature is arguably in Sam Beam’s voice, and it is utilized and harmonized more than ever here.  Even the lyrics feature Beam’s signature fanfare of religious metaphors sprinkled throughout.

While this new instrumentation isn’t poorly executed, it has unfortunately offered up a bit of a problem.  To put it simply, the album suffers from not knowing what it wants to be.  It certainly can’t be categorized as folk anymore.  So is it electronic?  Freeform jazz?  One could argue that the music is what it is and does not warrant a label, but Beam’s continued push for further experimentation has lead to a lack of focus.  Our Endless Numbered Days worked as an exceptional folk album, and The Shepherd’s Dog still worked even after dropping a lot of the earlier folk elements mainly due to its catchiness (what Iron & Wine fan can’t sing along to "Boy With a Coin" at this point?).  But now, with even more of Iron & Wine’s typical components lost on this latest record, that distinct catchiness is fading.  On paper, the idea behind stepping outside the world of folk for the sake of change is fine, but what we’re then left with is something more on par with a lot of what the modern music world already has to offer.  It may be too much wishful thinking, but Kiss Each Other Clean could have potentially fared better had Beam decided to step even further outside of his boundaries.

That’s not to say there isn’t something here.  This is still an excellent addition to the Iron & Wine catalog, but it may not be what fans are expecting.  If you’re willing to be open to whatever Beam and company have to offer (even less so than with, say, Radiohead), then you’ll have a pleasant surprise awaiting you.  If not, you’ll just have to stick with the group’s earlier releases.  Wherever Beam is taking us, he’s showing no signs of turning around.  We can only hope he travels a bit further on his next outing to create something a bit more memorable.

MP3 Stream: "Walking Far From Home"

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Album Reviews
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