Iron & Wine - Beast Epic

by James Gerard Rating:9 Release Date:2017-08-25

After a four year absence, Sam Beam and his indie-folk project/alter-ego Iron & Wine returns to the fold with the aptly titled Beast Epic, a sprawling 'epic' of an album that finds Beam and Co. circling back to the lo-fi immediacy of the project’s early days.  Gone are any hints of the glossy, studio-driven pop embellishments that had permeated more recent outings (like 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean). Instead, Beast Epic distills the band’s music back down to its primary ingredients, placing Beam’s voice front and center alongside his economic guitar playing.

Within seconds of the whispered count-in that kicks off the album-opener “Claim Your Ghost”, it’s clear that raw and intimate will be the rule of the day.  But as tracks like the Chapin-esque “Thomas Country Law” and the reflective “Bitter Truth” reveal, Beast Epic is far from a quaint, old-school four-track recording, as beneath the understated veneer, tactfully placed and brilliantly executed sonic embellishments abound.

It’s within these arrangements that the band as a whole shines throughout, adding a sense of momentum to the record’s upbeat numbers (“Song In Stone”, “Call It Dreaming”, “About A Bruise”).  And while the performances sound live and spontaneous, it’s the album’s more pensive moments (“The Truest Stars We Know”, and the closing “Our Light Miles”) where Beam truly shines the brightest, with his sincerely delivered vocals conveying a tangible sense of melancholy.

While one might think that a collection of middle-age induced ruminations focusing on life’s heartbreaking brevity would be a bit of a drag, Beast Epic somehow manages to unravel with a sense of hopefulness, and at less than forty minutes, the album never feels in danger of overstaying its welcome.  

With six full-length Iron & Wine releases under his belt, there is little doubt as to the formula Beam is adhering to; acoustically driven song-craft realized through low-key arrangements and lushly intimate production that has yet to fall out of favor with his audience.  But by marrying a life-infused perspective with the minimally-overdubbed moment-capturing aesthetic of his earlier works, he has succeeded in creating a record that immediately feels both foreign and familiar, and would make the perfect place for a new fan to jump on board; no small accomplishment for an artist as prolific as Beam.   

 

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