Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron and Wine.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
On his fourth full length record, and first with Warner Bros. after years with Sub Pop, Sam Beam is able to build on the full band sound he fleshed out on The Shepherd’s Dog, while still progressing nicely from the his humble beginnings as the hushed dude on an acoustic guitar. Kiss Each Other Clean may not become everyone’s favorite Iron & Wine record, but I think it is definitely interesting and easily his most eclectic. One of the most pleasing things about this I&W record is the confidence Beam displays in his vocal delivery. Even on the most “non-I&W” tracks, “Rabbit Will Run” and “Big Burned Hand” for instance, he takes the song by the reigns and kicks out this kind of funky swagger like he was always meant to do it. But then there are the more straight-forward, mostly acoustic tracks like “Tree By The River,” the beautiful “Godless Brother In Love” and the twangy “Half Moon” that show Beam doing his best street-corner troubadour – much like his breakthrough Our Endless Numbered Days. But I think this is also the main reason why the album inevitably falters. While the songs themselves are at times fun and certainly a break from the I&W norm, as a whole it just seems very disjointed. There are times where the album hits a generally pleasant stride (“Godless Brother”) but it’s completely knocked off course when the woozy funkedelic jam grooves on “Big Burned Hand” kick in. This happens throughout the record and in the end it seemed like congruency wasn’t all a priority. Maybe it would add something more with some much-needed track rearrangement, but who knows? Overall, I thought Kiss Each Other Clean was fairly enjoyable album with a few throwaway tracks here and there. There’s no doubt that Beam isn’t content on just being the coffee shop dude anymore, so more power to him.
Iron and Wine is one of those bands that, in theory, I probably wouldn’t like. Breezy melodies are meshed with easy to digest acoustic backdrops, but the redeeming factor has always been that Sam Beam’s project is that no matter how bland the formula, it is always done well. With album opener “Walking Far From Home,” I thought Beam had created another album that, while not crashing my year end best of list, would be a solid album that would find its place in my collection. Then the wheels fell off. “Me and Lazarus” sounds somehow like a Blind Melon castoff (which is saying something, as I don’t think they casted much off). “Monkeys Uptown” is just confusing, “Godless Brother in Love” sounds like Jeff Buckley lite and “Big Burned Hand” is a mess of fuzzy vocals and ill conceived funk. I rarely, if ever, advocate for doing “less” as far as trying new things, but this is one of those times. Iron and Wine do something (homespun, ethereal folk with amazing vocals) really, really well. When they ventured outside their box, they got the train wreck that is Kiss Each Other Clean.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
I can’t really present my thoughts on Kiss Each Other Clean because in all honestly, I couldn’t really make it any further than “Rabbit Will Run.” Maybe something brilliant happened after song six but I kind of doubt it. Frankly by that point I would have settled for something relatively mediocre. Instead what I got was six tracks of easy listening Americana lite – so bland and uninspired that its relative inoffensiveness becomes painful to listen to. Yeah, the full instrumentation is clearly arranged with a talented hand – but its talent that seems wasted here on innocuous blather.
The Iron and Wine of yesteryear used to make spare and oftentimes beautiful folk songs – conventional, yes, but through made captivating through intelligent lyricism and a keen ear for melody. If Kiss is any indicator, the Iron and Wine of today now seems motivated by a desire to make it into the Pottery Barn muzak rotation. It’s the perfect music to tune out while you pick out some new beige colored throw pillows for your modest yet tasteful suburban home.