Acoustic god goes electronic — to mediocre results.
Sam Beam, a.k.a. Iron & Wine, used to be that sad dude with the acoustic guitar that everyone listened to in high school. The music was minimalist, in a certain sense: Beam crooned out nostalgic lyrics over finger–picked arpeggios. So to say Kiss Each Other Clean, the newest from Beam, is a dramatic departure from his prior work would be a huge understatement. The album has everything but that singer–songwriter charm Beam used to bank on.
Most striking are the changes in instrumentation: the record is full of electronic wizardry and pseudo–African rhythms. The pace is different, too. This is much more of a rock album than anything the formerly folky Beam ever dreamt up. The only real consistency is Beam’s hazy, nice–guy voice, which takes on a weird new context in the electronic mess that surrounds it.
To be sure, electronic experimentation by folk artists can work. Among others that have pulled off a similar musical switcharoo, Bright Eyes did it in characteristic style with the 2004 release of Digital Ash In A Digital Urn.
What went right on Digital Ash, however, is exactly where Kiss Each Other Clean falls short. While the Bright Eyes disc is a focused group of songs with carefully thought–out roles for each instrument, Iron & Wine’s attempt is awash in extraneous embellishments.
The first half of “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me,” for example, has a rhythmic squeaking laid over the back of the track which is nothing but distracting. And the synth line that kicks in toward the end of “Walking Far From Home” is entirely out of place, disappearing about as haphazardly as it arrives.
There are rare moments where Beam does whittle down the instrumentation, like on “Me and Lazarus,” although the song is still overly reliant on oohing and aahing — an irritating vocal crutch on which Beam leans heavily throughout the album. Overall, Kiss Each Other Clean sounds like Beam misplaced his guitar, bought a software synth and tried to use every single one of its voices in one album. He’d be wise to listen to some of his older stuff again and apply that same minimalist ethic to his newfound digital toys.
Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean
Sounds Like: Dial-up internet + guitar and vocals
99–Cent Download: “Me And Lazarus”
Good For: Reborn emo kids