Sounds: Iron and Wine

Jennifer Suh

I still remember when I first heard Iron & Wine’s “Naked As We Came.” It was used as a soundtrack in a TV show and was one of those songs that made me run to the nearest computer to Google the first couple of words I heard from the lyrics. That day, I found Samuel Beam, aka Iron & Wine, and it was like finding a pearl in a shell.

Today, looking for another track of pure beauty, I bought the deluxe version of his latest album, “Kiss Each Other Clean.” Starting with the first single, “Walking Far from Home,” this album can best be described as eclectic and experimental. From folk rock and pop to a little bit of jazz, the tracks skip from one genre to another and showcase a mix of original yet unusual sounds.

“Tree By the River” simply evokes joy and happiness. Like many other tracks on the album, “River” includes a slightly annoying, multilayered background chorus. But in this song, the chorus magically blends into the pure beauty of the instrumental performance. The lyrics illustrate a sentiment that Beam has never shown before: “Mary Anne, do you remember/The tree by the river/When we were seventeen?/… I was coy in the half-moon/Happy just to be with you”

“Monkeys Uptown” is completely different from his past hits. It’s more upbeat than most of the songs on this album and sounds like generic pop in some ways. Nonetheless, it’s catchy and fun, and sometimes that’s all you need in a good song. “Godless Brother,” on the other hand, is beautifully soft and mellow, and it’s a great mix of piano, guitar and Sam Beam’s charming vocal performance. If you like his old records, you’ll probably like this one.

The slightly jazzy seven-minute “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me” is all about the thought-inducing lyrics. Beam talks about how “we will become” countless pairs of two opposite things: “target and the gun,” “whisper and the shout”, “now and then” and so on.

Lastly, don’t get tricked into buying the deluxe version because of iTunes popularity ratings; the bonus tracks are overrated. In general, be patient when listening to Beam’s rather puzzling latest piece of work – with time, it will start to make sense.

Join Iron & Wine at the Riviera Theater in Chicago on March 4, 2011.

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This was originally published in The Current, a weekly supplement to The Daily Northwestern.