Despite Sam Beam’s gifts as a songwriter and musician, the music of Iron and Wine up to this point has been something to be admired rather than loved. Their beauty is balanced by a difference in construction and distance in theme that, while striking, has kept Beam somewhat at arm’s length. Iron and Wine’s music has been something that seemed wafted in from a simpler, more formal time. This trend is arrested on Kiss Each Other Clean. Beam eschews perfection in favor of humanity, and in doing so creates a transcendent, beguiling, and unexpectedly funky album.
A noticeable departure on Kiss Each Other Clean is that Beam seems to be having a genuinely good time on the album. While Iron and Wine’s previous release, The Shepherd’s Dog, greatly expanded Beam’s sonic vocabulary, much of the experimentation seemed forced; at times it seemed that Beam was taking the role as the all-knowing instructor, guiding an ignorant audience through various forms of music that he considered artistically important. This could be enlightening, sure, but it simply isn’t much fun and the end of elitism in pop music is usually derision. On Kiss Each Other Clean Beam takes his inspiration from AM radio; instead of setting himself apart, he grounds the record in shared experience. This exploration could be twee, but given Beam’s established idiosyncrasy, the melodies give him the accessibility he has thus far been missing.
The most compelling aspect of Kiss Each Other Clean, however, is the looseness that Beam incorporates into the songs. “Walking Far From Home” begins the record with a degree of portentousness, but Beam quickly follows with “Me and Lazarus” and “Tree By The River,” which exchange apocalyptic imagery for unexpected jazz riffs and lighter, though equally poetic, themes. Beam continues this welcome openness for the balance of the album. In the hands of a lesser craftsman, Kiss Each Other Clean could have been a pandering mess; Sam Beam, however, is able to create his most inviting world yet.
Following Iron and Wine's last batch of new tunes, The Shepherd's Dog -- which was released in 2007 -- we saw the arrival of live albums and rarities collections that fed the jones of fans as best they could, but the new of Kiss Each Other Clean's expected 2011 unveiling lit the hearts of Iron and Wine admirers even brighter. Since The Shepherd's Dog took Sam Beam's music in an unexpectedly visceral, psychedelic direction, predictions ran rampant about what its follow-up might bring, though details were initially few and far between around the time of Kiss Each Other Clean's announcement.