Sam Beam (a.k.a. Iron and Wine) decided to spruce things up a bit with his latest release, Kiss Each Other Clean—especially on the production end of things. This time around, Beam utilizes a fuller array of instruments on his tracks, and his folksy vocal style is accompanied by synthesizers, retro guitar lines, flutes, and dressy drum rhythms. The end result is “brighter rainbow” of Iron and Wine’s repertoire—a more layered approach to his basic-but-modern singer/songwriter stylishness that has given him success since his inaugural 2002 album.
First and foremost, Beam’s writing remains sharp, attractive, and intelligent. His simple yet intriguing choice of words in every song plays extremely well with the music, especially in “Rabbit Will Run,” which has a wonderful rolling rhythm and an ear-catching up-and-down pace running through it, painted with playful drums, stripes of organ and a smattering of flute.
On other tracks, like “Walking Far From Home,” Beam creates an alluring, intimate feel through the clean production and simple, enduring vocal expression. “Tree By The River” has an unmistakable sound akin to late ’70s Fleetwood Mac, and Beam himself sounds like Lindsey Buckingham in his polished vocal flow. On “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me,” Beam incorporates a jazzy, bouncy backdrop that borrows some of Steely Dan’s sophisticated pop flavor, and “Half Moon” plays upon curls of faint guitar and wispy vocals in a “happy” little ditty that fits in well with the feel of the album.
Beam’s writing, on these and all of the other tracks, remains Iron and Wine’s selling point. His words wrap around the music, linger even after the next stanza is over, and leave an impression even though they are placed softly in amongst his choice of instruments. Think, if you will, of a Cat Stevens for the new millennium.
After having heard the album a few times, however, one can’t help but to be redirected to the production. Some may say that Kiss Each Other Clean sounds overdone, too glitzy and too “shiny” when compared to his past albums, including his previous effort (2007′s The Shepherd Dog).
There’s some truth to that statement. There’s a definite and unavoidable atmosphere in the album’s layering of keyboards, guitar and the rest of the instrumentation. This fuller aesthetic, however, partners with his songwriting but never overpowers it—no part of his storytelling is overshadowed by the moods, the aura or the charisma of this robust production.
Because of that, Kiss Each Other Clean is every bit as satisfying as Beam’s fans would expect—and perhaps even a little bit more.