Under Review: Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Does every solo project come equipped with a timer that counts down to when said project becomes a full-on band? It certainly seems to be the case if Iron & Wine is to be used as the control in such a study. Though Sam Beam remains the singular force behind the group’s creative direction, every release since his 2002 debut has been an increasingly lush and ornate affair. Of course, that’s hardly a slight against Beam, who has gracefully made the transition to bandleader. Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam’s fourth full-length, is by far his most elaborate creation, and features some of his finest work. Part of what makes Kiss Each Other Clean so arresting is that it doesn’t try to cloak the presence of a band and full studio. The vocal tricks on opener “Walking Far From Home” and “Rabbit Will Run” make Beam’s soothing voice sound chilly and robotic, but that’s complimented with a more natural tone on most of the other tracks. The instrumentation is quite eclectic, too, with the electronic twitches on “Me And Lazarus” and the “Up On Cripple Creek” Hammond on “Big Burned Hand” helping this to sound far from a solo effort.

As Beam was first noted for his songwriting, it should come as no surprise that these experimental sounds serve as dressing to already captivating stories. Beam waxes pastoral on “Tree By The River,” and paints melancholy family portraits in “Godless Brother In Love.” Though Kiss Each Other Clean puts its most dynamic moments right out in the open, some of its real gems are the songs that might’ve felt at home on The Shepherd’s Dog. The jazzy “Glad Man Singing” and the tropical “Monkeys Uptown” sway and sizzle with a hushed refinement. Something else that’s almost as hard to ignore as the album’s production is Beam’s heavy use of profanity in the new songs’ lyrics. While I’m certainly no prude, it admittedly took be a bit aback. Perhaps that’s just part of Beam’s overall mission to redefine himself and his band, a mission that Kiss Each Other Clean handsomely accomplishes in 44 luscious minutes.

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~ by E. on January 26, 2011.

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