Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

written by: January 31, 2011
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean album cover Release Date: January 25, 2010


It’s amazing how much Sam Beam’s music as Iron & Wine has evolved over the years. Each album to the next has signified a stylistic leap. His debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, is as lo-fi as it gets. Listening to his latest record, Kiss Each Other Clean, it’s hard to believe the same guy is making this music.

With songwriting closer to ’70s pop and soft rock and even more dense instrumentation than The Shepherd’s Dog, this may be his biggest leap yet.

The opening track, “Walking Far from Home,” released as a single late last year, welcomes new listeners who may have discovered him on the Twilight soundtrack. It’s a simple pop song, but Beam constantly changes the rhythm and instrumentation as the verses and chorus repeat. It opens with a distorted organ under as he establishes the main theme, the organ drops and is replaced with piano and vocal oohs, drums and vibes chime in, then strings, and with each turn the background vocals change, new layers are put in place and/or removed, and despite the repetitiveness of the song at its core, it stays interesting the whole time.

From then on it’s a more challenging affair. Although a couple tracks fall a little flat, much of Kiss Each Other Clean is a success for the same reasons: It starts with a good, simple song and then Beam adds a perfect tapestry of instrumental compliments from his now seemingly infinite collection, weaving them in and out with such taste and attention to detail.

Only rarely does it seem like Beam is stretching to achieve something out of reach or compensating for weak writing with production.

Some songs shift so much the beginning theme is hardly recognizable. “Monkeys Uptown” starts in a similarly psychedelic rock manner as “White Tooth Man” from The Shepherd’s Dog, then all of a sudden you reach the end and it’s basically a Stevie Wonder funk jam with vintage synths. Such experimentation would beset most songwriting, but not Sam Beam’s. Every bit of it works in his favor.

The more eccentric pieces are offset with some tunes that keep the layers to a minimum and dazzle with their natural beauty. The best one-two punch comes in the center of the album. “Rabbit Will Run” is a dark song, quietly epic, that manages to use toy whistles a couple times before dropping out and introducing a jazzy jam with some wonderful flute that actually understays its welcome. It is followed by the stunning “Godless Brother in Love,” which uses strictly acoustic instruments, recalling the simple elegance of the tracks on Our Endless Numbered Days while fitting into the rest of the album.

The album closes with “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me”—another epic piece. What could be described as a clash of Radiohead’s “Electioneering” and My Morning Jacket’s “Dondante,” the track opens with a fast shuffle beat, replete with horns and closes with a half-time coda that is easily the hardest and heaviest thing Beam has put to tape.

This will be a challenging listen for most fans and will likely split opinions. Even fans of The Shepherd’s Dog may struggle to connect with these songs initially. He’s definitely stepped out of his element. The songs aren’t quite his best nor are they his most unified set, but there’s a clear underlying brilliance throughout. Kiss Each Other Clean is close to being another Iron & Wine masterpiece, but misses slightly. At the end of the day, Sam Beam may not have created the album of the year, but he still has the best beard.

Kiss Each Other Clean Tracklisting

1. Walking Far from Home

2. Me and Lazarus

3. Tree By the River

4. Monkeys Uptown

5. Half Moon

6. Rabbit Will Run

7. Godless Brother in Love

8. Big Burned Hand

9. Glad Man Singing

10. Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me