Kiss Each Other Clean is the fourth album of Sam Beam, more commonly recognised under stage name Iron and Wine and the decade-long pioneer of Sub-Pop’s folk rebirth. There is an instantly recognisable sound throughout Beam’s back catalogue that his audience has come to expect; the soft steel of the subtle strings, each note so sensitive it’s barely an audible breath beneath the wordsmith’s whispers… It’s a sound that has made success stories of his last three releases, a sound that his audience has come to adore, and a sound that is barely evident in this latest effort. The album’s opening track, Walking Far From Home, is a hypnotic reminder of familiar territory, yet as it progresses an electronic hum builds in anticipation for what lies ahead, and what lies ahead is an album of bold experimentation and the breaking of new ground. A brief flare of electronic bass reminiscent of Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips leads the album into track two, Me and Lazarus, before sliding smoothly into an unprecedented wave of funk and, eventually, the wail of a saxophone that sets the precedent for what’s to come.
The record sways confidently between the more likely sounds of Nick Drake, Lindisfarne and Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac, into the daring realms of jazz, ’60s pop, motown and beyond, with xylophones, synthesizers and wild panpipes all finding their place within the ten songs, and it soon becomes clear that these are ten songs to be heard. This is no cheap supplement to throw down your gullet while preparing for another miserable night on the town, but a finer substance that deserves deliberation, absorption, and time to digest in solitude. It’s something to be mulled over, returned to, tried in different locations, from different approaches, with different company and, eventually, its true beauty will be understood.
Beneath that sometimes-unorthodox experimentation remains the story telling roots that are not only synonymous with the genre, but which have elevated Iron and Wine to such high regard among his peers. Kiss Each Other Clean is a rich and textured tapestry of fleeting emotions, impassioned memories and the most vibrant, saturated colours that a man’s life can offer.