Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: Kiss Each Other Clean
Release Date: January 25, 2010
I guess I started listening to Iron & Wine sometime between Our Endless Numbered Days LP and Woman King EP in 2004. Those were the first two of their recordings that I ever got into, and to be honest, their only full releases that I have really taken the time to enjoy. Woman King, which many view as a transitional piece for singer Sam Beam, moving Iron & Wine from a solo project to a full band. I don’t think I was making top 10 lists in 2004, but if I had been, Woman King would be near the top of it.
My appreciation of the band probably reached it’s peak in 2006 when I saw the band at Bonnaroo. This was one of my favorite sets of the weekend, and that wasn’t something I was expecting. Normally singer/songwriters suffer in festival settings, with noisy and often indifferent crowds, but Iron & Wine captivated a tent of several thousand people into silence during songs punctuated with boisterous applause in between. And they closed with a song that I had never heard before, but one which since has become one of my favorite songs of all time: The Trapeze Swinger. (Though, I would say not to bother with a non-live version of the song.) By the time the set was over, my jaw was nearly on the ground. When I got home from Bonnaroo, I downloaded the set. I have it posted at the end of this review. It is a fantastic live show and definitely worth a download.
I saw them the next year at Lollapalooza, and the same atmosphere was not had. Everyone was loud and inattentive, and while he closed with Trapeze Swinger, no one cared. Furthermore, the band hadn’t released any new material in a while. After this point, I lost a good degree of interest in the band. Their next LP, The Shepherd’s Dog, came out in 2007 and I never really gave it the time of day. I listend a few times, but the album sounded impersonal and not the Iron & Wine I was interested in hearing. And I was skeptical that I would ever really like an Iron & Wine CD again.
I knew that this was going to be another full band Iron & Wine spectacle and once again, I was quite suspicious. I downloaded it when it leaked and threw it on while working (as is my listening habit lately). Turns out, the first track is just beautiful. “Walking Far From Home,” kind of reminds me Trapeze Swinger in a lot of ways. It’s other worldly, both lyrically and sonically– But I guess I didn’t start out realizing it’s beauty. I think that’s just how I’m hearing it now.
This CD certainly took me four or five times to appreciate. But I’ve found the time spent to be incredibly worthwhile. This album is a realization of what started with Woman King and was fleshed out (in my opinion in a kind of boring way) with The Shepherd’s Dog. This is Sam Beam comfortably unashamedly writing with a full band in mind. The production values are strong, the arrangements are interesting. Sam Beam still sounds like he has a beard. (I assume he does).
There’s a whole lot of personality here, and a bit of shifting. One downside of listening to CDs several times without thinking too much about it that I often lose the form of the piece of work. I don’t know my beginning, middle and end. In this case (unlike in the case of Tennis: Cape Dory), I think this is my fault rather than the album’s. Because the closer of Kiss Each Other Clean is my favorite type of closer: A multi-part epic. The first two and a half minutes are some kind of classic rock extravaganza. Then everything resolves and it turns back into an Iron & Wine album to close the last four minutes. It keeps getting noisier and noisier until finally there is resolution.
In between the first and the last track, there’s plenty to like, and also plenty of genre hoping. This is the most exploratory Iron & Wine album to date and I think everything pays off. Like I said, it took me quite a few times to get into, but I think this is an album that will stick with me for awhile.