Iron & Wine Reviewed
Iron & WineThe Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop)
Sam Beam's work has often carried apocalyptic undertones, a dire biblical portent couched in the intimacy of his calming verses and hovering disconsolately behind wearily nostalgic narratives and augural allusions. The Shepherd's Dog almost inverts the approach, discordant textures usurping the album and leaving the traces of Beam's elegant subtlety shored only against the ruins of cryptic phrases in the rupture of rapture. Though the LP culminates a clear progression for Beam, Iron & Wine coalescing since 2005's Woman King into a band secure enough to experiment, the barrage of instrumentation and effects do little to advance the songs on The Shepherd's Dog. The calculated cacophony is overly haphazard and subverts the complexity aspired to in the ambitious arrangements. Opener "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" quickly swells into a din of random piano runs and distorted strings, drowning Beam's meditative hum, while "White Tooth Man" contorts ominously behind an odd, dark-holler sitar, and "Lovesong of the Buzzard" buzzes with unnecessary backward-looped manipulations that resurface throughout the album. Most of the songs are so gratuitously layered as to deflect any substance, the shifting world rhythms constantly frustrating any coherence, as with the angular jams of "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)." Only in closing do the elements began to pull together, the piano-driven romp of "The Devil Never Sleeps" and eerie, hand-clapped blues of "Peace Beneath the City" offering a promising balance between the band and Beam. Whereas previous albums dwelled in patient penitence, The Shepherd's Dog is a ferocious, chaotic Second Coming.