Plumbiferous Media

Kiss Each Other Clean – Iron & Wine

Jan 30th 2011
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Kiss Each Other Clean - Iron & WineIron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
Score: 80

Kiss Each Other Clean, Sam Beam’s newest album as Iron and Wine was released on the 25th. Kiss Each Other Clean follows the quite successful The Shepherd’s Dog, although it does not quite live up to the hype produced by its predecessor. Kiss Each Other Clean, while still a good album, is simply not Beam’s best, nor a truly exceptional album.

Sam Beam’s quiet but powerful tones haven’t changed much since The Shepherd’s Dog – which, given Beam’s propensity for vocal excellence, is certainly not a bad thing. Beam’s voice rings out through Kiss Each Other Clean‘s careful instrumentals, providing a soft but emotional edge that compliments not only the instrumentals but the music as a whole, working perfectly with the album’s typically well-written lyrics. Through Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam works through a number of vocal styles, most familiar, but with changes or refinements that make them sound as fresh as they did on his early work. Each is both successful alone and as an elegant driving force to the sort of story told by each track – an impressive feat for any album.

Iron & Wine tends towards image-laden, narrative-heavy lyrics, and Kiss Each Other Clean is no exception. Beam populates his stories with a number of intriguing images, from “Tree by the River”‘s reminiscent image of the “Dark canyon wall, the call and the answer / And the mare in the pasture / Pitch black and baring its teeth” to “Me and Lazarus”‘s “liberated loser that can roam.” Accentuated with the usual mix of clarity and deep metaphor, Kiss Each Other Clean succeeds in creating a complex lyrical presence.

Beam’s creative tones are, at least at first glance, entirely present on Kiss Each Other Clean. Tracks are filled with a range of instrumentals, from utterly simple, yet entirely elegant lines to more active and intriguingly convoluted harmonies. In fact, Kiss Each Other Clean‘s greatest strength is quite possibly the diversity each track provides. And though the instrumentals invariably play the role of assistant to Beam’s voice, they nevertheless remain memorable.

At the same time, the secondary nature of the instrumentals is likely also the root of one of Kiss Each Other Clean‘s greatest flaws. While tracks are invariably unique, instrumentals rarely change over the length of a track, which works amazingly well if Kiss Each Other Clean is to be considered background music, but not quite as well in any other circumstance. As interesting as any given track can be, the high point is generally the start of the track, the rest declining into repetitive nothingness.

Kiss Each Other Clean is neither a huge step forward for Iron & Wine, nor by any means the band’s best album. It is, however, still a good album. Thanks primarily to Sam Beam’s excellent vocals, as well as the album’s poetry-tinged stories, Kiss Each Other Clean comes together quite well. It may not be perfect, but it’s certainly worth listening to, especially for fans of Iron & Wine’s earlier work.

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