Typically Sam Beam has been recording at home, with the help of friends and what not. On Kiss Each Other Clean, his first album after his jump to a major label, you can tell that the big money definitely allows for more production, which at times might be to his detriment on the new record for Iron & Wine. It’s a fine addition to his growing catalog, but that’s just it, it’s a fine addition, nothing more.
“Walking Far From Home” makes use of some atmospheric swells for the song’s opening, but once removed the piano laden track really shows that our excitement rests on Sam’s remarkable voice, though it has a bit less of that folk feel to it. But, just as soon as you begin to get in the groove, Kiss Each Other Clean begins to wander in the opposite direction.
Experimentation is fine and good, but sometimes it can feel incredibly forced, and almost unnecessary. On the record’s second track, “Me and Lazarus,” that’s where I get a little skeptical on Mr. Beam’s intentions. There’s some saxophone solos, weird blips and inserted noises, and for me, it just doesn’t seem to fit with the Iron & Wine I’ve come to experience. Now, I’m not banning growth or pushing your artistic tastes, but some formulas are better left unadorned. “Tree by the River” comes off as the sort of thing someone would hear at a church-camp, using gospel-influenced backing vocals. Once the song gets kicking, it sounds rather ordinary, almost like a mundane radio single, which is precisely what I never hoped to see from Sam Beam.
Don’t get me wrong here, there are some tracks that I’d probably consider some of my favorite from Iron & Wine. “Half Moon,” for instance, is probably the first time through Kiss Each Other Clean that you really get the intimate vibe from Sam, which might be a bit late, considering it’s placed in the middle of the record. That lightly soloing in the background provides just enough extra texture to give the song more depth, and its more of the direction I hoped to see throughout. Perhaps it is the moment when he seems the most exposed where Beam is able to win over the listener. “Godless Brother in Love” reminds me of something I would have expected Jeff Buckley to be writing in his bedroom without his lush production. Emotion pours out of this song, and that’s what you expect from something, or someone, with such great power. When Sam’s voice goes into that high pitch, it just sucks me right in to the song.
Surely people won’t hate this album at all, but it definitely stands out as having some disposable tracks, such as “Big Burned Hand, with all its sax squawking. Kiss Each Other Clean has shining moments, as previously mentioned, but one is left to feel that various experiments might have gone a bit too far in the long run, leaving the record sort of standing there. For Iron & Wine, it’s the first time I feel as if he’s really middle of the road.
Download: Iron and Wine -Tree By The River (Daytrotter Session) [MP3]