REVIEW: Iron & Wine – “Kiss Each Other Clean”

Iron & Wine / Kiss Each Other Clean / Warner

For the faithful out there, nothing needs to be done to the soft organic melodies of Iron & Wine to make them more “radio friendly”. They’re truthful, simple and beautiful with little more than two guitar tracks and two vocal tracks and… that’s about it. But what would happen to singer/songwriter Sam Beam’s sound if provided with a full-on pop music treatment of cherubic backup vocals, toe-tapping drum lines, and even the occasional funky sax and bass duo? Not surprisingly to anyone except perhaps some of those hard-lining purists, the result – heard on Iron & Wine’s latest Kiss Each Other Clean – is alternatively toe-tapping, funky and yes, even radio friendly.

Some of the production tactics used on the mainly home-recorded album are similar to those used by Daniel Lanois on Neil Young’s Le Noise; opener “Walking Far From Home” sounds as though it were recorded in an echo chamber adjacent a gushing vat of digital snow, and it sticks with you all the more because of it; in places where a simple bass line might have sufficed, electronic clicks and whirls fill the void. Of course, technological cosmetic changes are not enough to make an album great; Beam’s intrinsic ability for writing timelessly catchy hooks is. The songwriter keeps listeners hanging on his every line on the bobbing and weaving “Me and Lazarus”, and actually breaks into a compelling mix of Manfred Mann and the Bee Gees on the album closing “Your Fake Name is Good Enough For Me”. Judging by the decade-spanning development heard on Kiss Each Other Clean, can it be long before Iron & Wine embraces hip hop and the world finally sees the long-anticipated “T.Iron & Lil Wiyne” mix tape? I certainly hope not.

Download: “Big Burned Hand”, “Your Fake Name is Good Enough For Me”

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