When Sam Beam dropped his second major release, Our Endless Numbered Days, in 2004, fans and critics alike listened in awe as the quiet singer and guitarist quickly rose to the ranks of the decade’s best musicians. His music drew comparisons to Nick Drake and Paul Simon and his melancholy songwriting etched him into the acoustic rock genre as one of the greats.
And just when they thought they had him pegged, Beam threw his third album, The Shepherd’s Dog, at the music world and stunned them again; expanding his sound to a full band and proving what more he could do with a little help.
Kiss Each Other Clean will flip you on your head and keep you guessing all over again. No more “Naked As We Came”, this album not only comes with accompaniment, but digital at that. Beam’s fourth release takes a bite out of everything; auto-tuned vocals, experimental electronic melodies, choired harmonies, and raw electric guitars.
The opening track, “Walking Far From Home”, sounds like the latest creation of a Sufjan Stevens studio session. Soft vocals, heavily auto-tuned, resound over grumbling distortion as the drudge breaks away into angelic background harmonies and dancing piano notes. “Tree By The River” features tamed electric guitar solos that dance along to polished harmonies and a catchy, Beatles-like refrain that feels hot off 1960s pop radio.
“Big Burned Hand” borders on funk, with a playful saxophone taking turns in and out with Beam’s vocals and a popping bass line with the occasional break for a few piano chords that belong in a psychedelic dream. Done with the fragile singing that defined his earlier albums, Beam sounds nothing like himself as he laments a harsher truth behind his experiences with love and pushes his voice to demonstrate ability that seems to have been hiding all along.
Fans should not pick up Kiss Each Other Clean and expect to hear an ounce of familiarity from Iron & Wine, Beam’s stage name, but they should absolutely pick it up. Beam’s fourth album represents not only ten tracks of impressive songwriting and musicianship, but a whole new kind of packaging for Iron & Wine altogether. It shows evolution into an entirely new sound; one that may not please every fan that fell in love with “Cinder And Smoke”, but definitely offers something new and interesting.
Sam Beam recently made the ranks of Guitar Planet’s “Top Ten Most Influential Guitarists of the 2000s”, in which we predicted his songwriting would impact guitarists for years to come. Kiss Each Other Clean just proved us right.
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