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Iron & Wine, the solo project of Sam Beam, began in a time where The Shins and Band of Horses, and any other band that would have fit on the Garden State soundtrack, with understated yet filled to the brim with emotion songs, was the typified sound in the indie world. The singer-songwriter genre isn’t exactly what it used to be, at least not when Iron & Wine was the it-band for that sound, most notably on Our Endless Summer Days (2004). Since then, while still understated, the music performed by today’s singer-songwriters has less to do with acoustic guitars and more to do with synthesizers and Pro Tools.
2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean shifted Beam’s musical direction from the introspective style of his albums up to The Shepherd’s Dog (2007) into something a little more assertive. On his latest album, Ghost On Ghost, he has crafted an album matching the flair of his 2011 release with the bedroom nature of his previous efforts. The music here is some of the strongest to date on an Iron & Wine album. “Caught in the Briars,” begins the album with a jolt of feel-good energy, carrying with it an undeniable hint of nostalgia. “Joy” is perhaps the most aptly named song on this album, with Beam professing his love to his wife through the song. “Low Light Buddy of Mine” and “Singers and the Endless Song” harken back to his work in the previous decade, and both feature two of the most beautiful melodies found here. Also important to note is the fact that Beam’s vocals are the strongest and most soulful they’ve sounded to date, as he his performances recall the powerful nature in which Jim James takes ownership of each My Morning Jacket song. Lyrically, Beam is at the top of his game as well, and his compositions are getting stronger by the minute. The closing punch of “Lovers’ Revolution” and “Baby Center Stage,” with the former being a jazzy, free-spirited joy ride, and the latter one of the most heartbreaking songs in his catalogue.
Throughout the album, Beam hits new heights that seemed unimaginable a few short years ago. On Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam seemed to be fighting for airtime amidst a more filled out sonic display. Here he uses the more complex arrangements as a companion to some of his strongest melodies, at least rivaling such classics as “Naked As We Came” and “Boy With a Coin.” For an artist many would have said had reached his peak years ago, Iron & Wine proves that there is a lot left in this tank, and that is what makes this such a triumphant return.