Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

In an interview about the fourth Iron & Wine studio album, Kiss Each Other Clean, Sam Beam told SPIN he’d planned to make his major label debut, “more of a focused pop record.” To his ears Kiss “sounds like the music people heard in their parent’s car growing up… that early-to-mid-’70s FM, radio-friendly music.” That, and he experiments with “straight-up jazz, blues, and African elements.” (Stuart Bogie of Antibalas and TV On The Radio added clarinet and saxophone, there a number of synthesized details, someone decided slap-happy bass was a good idea.) All of this seems alright in theory, an artist pushing his craft, expanding his aesthetic. The strange part of it, though, is that Beam said, via all of these new accents, he was hoping to give Kiss “more of a live feel.” Strange, because it sounds more constructed and (over, over) produced than his past records. It’s a bit like Sufjan’s recent folksy electronics, only less arresting.

If you haven’t heard the entire album, you’ve likely had a listen to “Tree By The River,” opener “Walking Far From Home,” and a number of the songs in a live setting. They sounded best in that live setting. At their core, many of the 10 songs on Kiss Each Other Clean are good ones, but the more-is-more production tends to mar and bury that fact, from the vocal filters and fuzz of the opener to the various ’70s grooves, DJ scratching, busy electro squiggles, “Rabbit Will Run” chirps, and the long-hair skronk of closer “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me.” All said, The Shepherd’s Dog’s a better example of playing with texture, new instrumentation, though even as we said in our Premature Evaluation of that one: “The most breathtakingly immediate tracks are those when the sound’s most naked.” Now that labels have become less important to the dissemination of music, folks don’t generally make a fuss when an indie (or indie-like) band jumps from an indie to a major; but with Kiss Each Other Clean, it really does sound like Beam decides to use that “major label money” to go for it in the studio, when all the guy really needs is his voice, those lyrics, his guitar. All’s not lost: Standouts include the pensive, soaring (and gorgeous) “Godless Brother In Love,” with Doveman on guest vocals, “Tree By The River,” and the gentle (female-backed) doo-wop of “Half Moon.” And, despite its ADD production, “Walking Far From Home”’s lyrics and melodies win out.

Whether or not you like Kiss may very well come down to which Beam you like best — the early less-is-more bedroom troubadour or the more recent college-rock friendly hacky sacker. If you’re one of the latter, devil’s sticks fans you now have your theme, and it’s called “Big Burned Hand.” Middle-aged hippie still pissed at the “man”? Try “Monkeys Uptown” the next time you update your political blog. Etc.

Kiss Each Other Clean is out 1/25 via Warner Bros. You can stream the entire album at TeamCoco.com. (As the exclusive stream suggests, Iron & Wine are appearing soon on Conan — 1/24.)

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Comments (23)
  1. super articulate write-up. spot on. i’ve hesitated to come out and say that it’s overproduced, if only because i think the material has a right to be embellished and nuanced beyond the intimacy of OEND or CDTC. But I had a sneaking suspicion with the last album, confirmed here, that sometimes embellishment doesn’t enrich, but rather obscures. it’s a tough claim to make, because i think i’ve grown out of the “they’re old lo-fi stuff was so much better” argument across the board, but again, i think production and arrangement obscures the songwriting development which is happening between early and later material.

  2. I think you should do an immediate ‘double-take’ on this one.

  3. I disagree. Having listened to this album multiple times I feel this is a fantastic collection of songs. Not only that, but this is some of the tightest and inventive songwriting. And jtl is correct when he/she says that the prevailing attitude towards this will be negative, which is truly a shame.

  4. Did Stanley Donwood do the album art or something?

  5. The Shephard’s Dog was way more produced than this album. [I realize that "produced" is such a nebulous term, but I think here, you're referring to anything that isn't straight into a mic] I really can’t figure out how you say this is way over produced but Shephard’s Dog was a good example of “playing with texture.” That album was way more studio-minded. Hm. Listen again, because this certainly does have a much more live feel than the last one.

    I can’t get behind the flute and sax solos, though. This cop movie soundtrack stuff is a little silly sometimes.

    BUT some of the songs are really fantastic, here. I hope people aren’t too thrown off to see that.

  6. Wow, Stereogum going all Pitchfork on us. Overproduced is certainly not something that has struck me on listening to it. I’ve had the album for over a week now and it only gets better with repeated listens. If you take away all the trite terms like ‘folk’ and ‘acoustic’, this seems like simply another amazing Iron & Wine album. It also strikes me as a natural progression. If this had been his fourth ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ I think we’d all be tired of Beam & co. I love the earlier stuff but this is just as good and valid.

    Also, I think the Sufjan analogy is weak. I don’t see Iron & Wine going all Kid A on us, throwing skittering keyboard blips throughout the music. Sure, there’s some experimentation but never for the sake of the song.

    • Are you suggesting that his first three albums sounded the same? I agree that we don’t want another Our Endless Days, no matter how great it was. But The Shepherd’s Dog sounded nothing like it. Sam Beam just doesn’t repeat himself.

  7. It ended up being a huge disappointment for me, lyrically he’s still great, but the music its self sounds all over the place. Hopefully he takes it down a notch next release. Songs like Walking Far From Home and Tree By The River are standouts and definately worth a listen but, Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me and Me And Lazarus are god awful, in my opinion. Anyways, albums worth a listen include James Blake’s self-titled, Smith Westerns’ Dye It Blonde, Destroyers’ Kaputt and, Cut Copy’s Zonoscope.

  8. There seems to be a large amount of close mindedness in this article. It seems the rule of thumb that these days that if an artist chooses to push the envelope and progress musically, he is praised. However, should he/she choose to adopt catchier choruses and generally go for a more ‘pop’ sound, they are ‘selling out for the majors’.
    The 70s vibe is present throughout the whole album and does certainly have a ‘songs over the radio’ feel to it. My favourite songs, personally, are Monkeys Uptown and Half Moon. Sam’s vocal melodies are brilliant in every single song, and even though he’s gone for a more ‘commercial’ sound I think this is his most ambitious record yet.

    I’ve got a feeling disliking this record is going to be the cool thing to do.

  9. I can see Pitchfork having a hay-day with this release. It’s discouraging to see that “professional music critics” will overlook at the progression in Sam Beam’s sound. Sure, this album might be the most accessible album to date, but do not discredit it. In Kiss Each Other Clean, it seems, that Sam is getting more confident in his voice and one can see his voice shine in tracks like “Godless Brother”. The term overproduced will be thrown a lot through various sites and blogs, but this album is stellar to say the least.

  10. What’s hilarious about these comments is that all of them figure themselves as the “unpopular opinion” in digging the album, when in fact only two or so people here have suggested it might not be so great. All I was trying to say is that there is a huge difference between musical progression and inappropriate arrangements: the melodies and progressions don’t necessarily lend themselves to “slappin da bass mon,” and come off as “c’mon, let’s add this and this – we’ve got the money for it!” and to reiterate above, i don’t see anything mainstream pop about the record. only in bizarro indie world does the stuff that gets called pop here even make sense.

    • FWIW, re: yours and the OP’s “let’s add this, we’ve got the money for it!” and etc., Kiss Each Other Clean was completed before the switch to the major label. The only album that was prepaid was OEND. (Sam says this in a recent interview when someone asked him if the new label was the reason for the new sound)

      Anyway, I’m excited for this album and if I was gonna guess, I’d say Pitchfork might give it BNM… we’ll have to wait and see I guess…

  11. These type of arrangements work for Destroyer not Sam Beam.

  12. http://www.buzzlegoose.com/music/review-kiss-each-other-clean-by-iron-wine/

    I can’t see how you could say that the album is over-produced. Beam’s been working towards progression of his sound, which I would say is a very admirable sound. He is no longer in the bedroom. His tickets sell upwards of 30 dollars at venues. t’s not like he’s fighting to get exposure and can only afford to play in his bedroom. Do we bash him for utilizing resources and working towards his own self-discovery.. and a Sufjan comparison? Really?

  13. I think I do like the way he strikes the balance on Shepherd’s Dog more, but that was also one of my favorite albums of the decade. I can listen to that thing any time anywhere, it just does it for me.

    That being said, this one is a little more cacophonous. Perhaps not more “produced” because it’s definitely rougher sounding and a little more “live” as others have said, but it’s busier.

    A bit of a hit and miss effort, but I like it all the same. It’s got charm.

  14. I couldn’t agree with you more..

    Shepherd’s Dog is one of my favourites for a long time as well, so I had very high hopes for this one. I agree that it is hit and miss, but yeah I still like it.. and the moments that are good on it, are REALLY good.

  15. On the plus side, this album isn’t overproduced. The instrumentation is fine most of the time (with a few exceptions).

    On the negative side, his songwriting is nothing compared to what we’ve come to expect from him. This album is a more mediocre version of his fantastic earlier work.

  16. “Am I the only person out there who does not like Iron and Wine’s new tune Walking Far from Home? Anyone else out there? No? Okay, well Stereogum has a Premature Evaluation of Kiss Each Other Clean, if you’re more excited than I am. And This Moving Picture has the exclusive look at the Tree By the River video (a better song by far.)”

    http://mrshuffleupagus.blogspot.com/2011/02/boss-stuff-on-interwebs-wednesday-links.html

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