Iron and Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2011, Volume 18, #8
Written by John Metzger
Mon November 14, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
There was a time when Sam Beam’s music made it seem as if he was hiding like a recluse in a cabin deep in the darkest of woods. This no longer is the case. He made that clear four years ago with Iron and Wine’s enthralling The Shepherd’s Dog. By applying dub grooves and African rhythms to his material, he made his rustic folk songs come alive in ways that once had seemed unimaginable. The effort pushed Iron and Wine to the forefront of the indie-music scene. So many people considered The Shepherd’s Dog to be among the best efforts to hit store shelves in 2007 that one had to wonder just what Beam would — or could — do for an encore. All anyone could do is wait and see.
Kiss Each Other Clean — Iron and Wine’s latest effort — not only lives up to the promise of The Shepherd’s Dog, but it also moves the outfit far beyond its initial goals. In fact, the album effectively positions Iron and Wine for mainstream acceptance without necessarily alienating the group’s base of indie fans. As expertly crafted as The Shepherd’s Dog was, it also felt too obtuse and was too demanding for the masses to grasp. With Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam directed his collaborators to strip away the gauziness of The Shepherd’s Dog and revel in his melodies.
It is customary for industry insiders to share an artist’s latest work long before it is available for consumption by the general public. In this way, other performers can latch onto a new idea, creating a trend that the industry can market. During the latter part of the 1970s, for example, Jimmy Iovine not only worked as an engineer for Bruce Springsteen, but he also served as a producer for Tom Petty. As the studio outtakes on boxed sets by Springsteen (Tracks) and Petty (Playback 1973–1993) sufficiently documented, Iovine was instrumental in facilitating an exchange of ideas between the two performers.
One has to wonder if a similar process took place between the creation of Kiss Each Other Clean and the recording of The Decemberists’ The King Is Dead. The efforts feature some of the most straightforward, pop-inflected music that either artist has ever made. Furthermore, several tracks on Iron and Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean — most notably Tree by the River and Half Moon — are virtually interchangeable with any of the selections on The Decemberists’ latest offering. Even so, Beam manages to inject new ideas into The Decemberists’ blueprint. Tree by the River is a joyous reflection on lost love that revolves around a southern California-bred, country-rock groove. With its Fleetwood Mac-imbued backing vocals, Half Moon adds a bit of warmth to its winter chill, allowing the glow of love to brighten its frozen corners like rays of sunshine.
On Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron and Wine broadens its vision considerably. Walking Far from Home sheds its ominous atmospherics, and baptized in melody, the song achieves the status of a gospel-folk hymn. On Me and Lazarus, Iron and Wine winds a power-pop strut around the loose, reggae-inflected currents of a jam by the Grateful Dead, while ripples of guitar and splashes of saxophone poke at the rhythmic churning of Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me. Similarly, on Rabbit Will Run, jagged flashes of guitar stab at a churning, atmospheric groove before the tune dissolves into a jazzy segue that crosses David Crosby with The Beach Boys.
With rock ’n‘roll riding quickly toward its 60th birthday, it is safe to say that the genre’s blueprint is already firmly established. As such, it isn’t likely that anyone will discover a shocking new twist to its tried-and-true formula. Therefore, the artists who will enjoy the most success are those who not only pluck ideas from the past, but also find ways of making their borrowed concepts sound fresh, exciting, and new. With Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron and Wine maintains vital links to rock’s glorious history, while simultaneously making its music sound wholly contemporary.
Of Further Interest...
Kiss Each Other Clean is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box