Iron & Wine Reviewed
Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Jan. 28, 2011
Iron & WineKiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)
Kiss Each Other Clean is an album of and about metamorphosis, and metamorphosis is rarely pretty or easy. The essential dilemma for Iron & Wine's fourth official full-length and major-label debut lies locked in its bookends, two compositions that refuse to realize a connection or an identity, elements that have served as hallmarks of Sam Beam's songwriting over the past decade. Opener "Walking Far From Home" flickers with a barrage of detached images, a pastiche of pastoral scenes cryptically woven in familiar Beam fashion but resonating little empathy or interaction. Seven-minute closer "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me" spirals into a black hole of becoming, a litany of Whitman-esque contradictions paired in a refusal to resolve. In between erupts the album's clash of will and reality into a messy, ill-defined awkwardness of transition, which might have captivated in the complex shades of ambiguity that Beam expertly builds, except for a complete want of direction or purpose. "Guess I had nowhere else to go," reckons Beam atop a warped funk of bass and soft-rock sax on "Me and Lazarus," but it's equally unclear where he might want to be. "Tree by the River" and "Half Moon" both effectively layer a light pop sheen onto narratives that could have been drawn from his early work, while the dark percussion and guitar tones scattered across songs like "Monkeys Uptown" and "Rabbit Will Run" hearken a mixture of Dire Straits and In the Reins, Beam's 2005 collaboration with Calexico. Gratuitous splashes of kitchen-sink arrangements distract the most, almost antagonistic in shifts like the cooing piano ballad "Godless Brother in Love" into the chaotic skronk of "Big Burned Head." Whether Kiss Each Other Clean ultimately proves an unmoored castaway or simply evolutionarily confused depends on Beam's next step, but in his attempted embrace of all things, he's become none.