Iron and Wine : Kiss Each Other Clean
Sam Beam’s earlier, mellower, lighter work, most notably in his album Our Endless Numbered Days sits somewhere between the finger and the fretboard, between the pluck of the string and the shiver of a note. It was delicate, pretty and soft – Kiss Each Other Clean, his latest record finds a 2011 Beam driven certainly by the same feelings but, like Tunng, he has levelled up in terms of his pop-song competitiveness.
Every song on this full, lush and far more produced album is layered, polished and truly a full-band sound. Not to mention damn catchy.
For fans of Iron & Wine this is certainly a few albums away from Our Endless Numbered Days. It has shades of Sufjan Stevens, perhaps with less complexity and orchestration, but with similar production values, choirs of female backup singers and folky sensibilities. The first two tracks Walking Far From Home and Me And Lazarus are particularly catchy, with the subtle funk of Me And Lazarus combining with its repeating melody to firmly embed it in your memory
It’s certainly more twee than earlier work, in that earlier albums were filled with more earnestness than tweeness, per se. Tree By The River has flavours of Belle And Sebastian, especially in the harmonies and percussion, but is tempered by the following track Monkeys Uptown which reminds one more of a midi keyboard composition (the electronic drumbeat is probably 90% of this feeling). But that electronic feel is contrasted with Beam’s warm voice and a vibraphone, creating a mish-mash kind of song that again has that Sufjan feel, representative of a new wave of indie pop, folk and rock that isn’t afraid to break out the old school synth every now and then. The end of this track is a strange distorted slap bass straight from ‘70s funk, which confusingly is followed by the extremely country-influenced opening of Half Moon.
Kiss Each Other Clean schizophrenically flashes through multiple genres even in one track, which is not as grating as it is perhaps simply a little disorienting at times. Beam’s smooth and familiar vocals tie everything together in a lovely way, and despite the identity crisis of this record, there is a unifying songwriting style that proves that all music has something in common, really.
When I first heard Iron & Wine, I never would have expected to have written that his music was “funky” or “rocking” but both of these things are true about Kiss Each Other Clean. The aurally fascinating Rabbit Will Run uses filtered electric guitars over vibes and an echoing version of Beam with a clean female choir of harmonies, not to mention strange percussive whistles and cowbell sounds which will sound similar to fans of bands like Yeasayer and School Of Seven Bells. Also, there’s a flute solo… why not hey?
It’s only with a deeper listen that a lot of these qualities really become apparent – the strange two-faced nature of this record is that while being really interesting, confusing and experimental in terms of its production and orchestration, the melodies and basic vocal sounds are still catchy, comforting and memorable. It’s testament to Beam’s wonderful songwriting skills and appetite for musical exploration and development. Kiss Each Other Clean comes Highly recommended – you’ll listen to it over and over again, whether to figure it out or just love it to death.