In many ways, Sam Beam, a.k.a. IRON AND WINE, remains an anachronism: a bearded 36-year-old folkish songwriter who lives in Dripping Springs with his large family. Yet his audience isn’t a bunch of gray-ponytailed Kerrverts in search of earnest odes to the rural life; it’s the indie rock world that idolizes him. His first album, released in 2002, was a quiet acoustic set, but Beam has found imaginative ways over the years to fill out his music. His fourth and best record to date, KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN (Warner Bros.), incorporates dense, three-dimensional arrangements—layers of keyboards, percolating percussion, odd horn charts, and eerie choirs—that are, at times, reminiscent of Phil Spector’s classic sixties productions. Beam alternates between sharp poetic imagery, often clouded with unsettling religious symbolism (“Walking Far From Home,” “Me and Lazarus,” “Rabbit Will Run”), and a more plaintive and personal take on balladry (“Tree by the River,” “Godless Brother in Love”). It’s the sentiments of the latter that often resonate with his fans, but it’s his more imposing fare, such as the album’s weird seven-minute finale, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me,” in which he builds intensity through repetitive phrasing (“We will become the river’s sway / We will become the love we made / We will become the endless chain,” et cetera), that really showcases his strengths. Not so long ago, the folkies were the real freaks. As his young rock fans have noticed, Beam’s doing his part to get us back there.
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