by Connor O’Brien
One of the times that I was most confused listening to music was when I heard the jazz freakouts on Iron & Wine’s 2011 record Kiss Each Other Clean. Not that I didn’t like them, but Sam Beam, the same guy who had been touring with singer-songwriter heavyweights like “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” and “Naked As We Came,” seemed the least likely guy to adopt a jazz-tinged backing band.
His latest effort with the still-evolving sound is Ghost on Ghost, which unfortunately does not live up to the already lowered expectations. While no artist should be blamed for trying to evolve their sound to better fit their moods or influences in pursuit of more interesting work, Beam has learned all the tricks to fusing his early and late sounds and unfortunately, his songwriting suffers. There are definite highlights, such as the album opener “Caught in the Briars” and the country-twanged “Baby Center Stage,” but most of the songs in the middle tend to blend together into a sea of mush. You’ll pick out a “by the fruit tree” and a “naked running” here and there, and that’s because Beam has elected to dole out his usual lyrical tropes and festoon them with new musical tricks.
What was novel on Kiss Each Other Clean has only become a predictable set of ornamentations and accompaniments. While the sound is definitely different, it’s undercut with a feeling of laziness. Of course, many Iron & Wine songs are supposed to sound laid back and lazy, in a way. Many of these songs are good for zoning out or studying, but there isn’t much below surface level that you haven’t heard before.
2 1/2 Q-Tips