Iron and Wine – Grace For Saints and Ramblers

Ooh, a single! Apparently we still do those! The A-side is the perfectly lovely laundry-list-of-reminiscing pop number that we all know so well from the album with the Ghost on Ghost action, and the B-side is a nifty 70s-style pop-rock chugger with a grinding little horn line and more electric guitar than usual for I&W. It’s way not necessary, but you enjoyed that excuse to hear the title track again, didn’t you? And you obsessively need to hear every song recorded by your beloved recording artists, don’t you?

No? I do.

7 / 10

Iron and Wine – Ghost On Ghost

Are you ready to listen to this hot ghost on ghost action? Well you should be, because it’s quite nice. Also, I’ve only realized this at a late juncture in my fandom, but several songs per I&W album are slyly sexual. I like it. As much as they’re all also nostalgia and reminiscy, and Southern.
But the trick with this album is that it doesn’t rely on lyrics to take the step to “very good” from “pretty good.” Instead, although it took three albums of having a band for the Beam to figure it out, but writing interesting music is better than writing dull music. If only he hadn’t wasted four years thinking the opposite!
No, but really, this is certainly indie-pop for new dads, and I respect that, but I don’t give it points for that. I will give it points for deploying the chorus of backup vocals when appropriate and the ooo-ing backup vocals when they’re needed, especially during “The Desert Babbler” and “Low Light Buddy Of Mine.” I also give points for having consistently catchy melodies, which is key for a good pop song, especially on lead single “Grace For Saints and Ramblers,” and the purdy love song “Joy” that’s basically just a melody and a few good lines.
It’s at worst pleasant, and there are some words worth remembering – namely the line about “born bitter as a lemon” from “Joy” and the many happy images from the Stars-esque single. The whole thing is as close as Sam Beam’s come to recording a Feist album, but y’know…I like Feist. I like music that’s nice to put on during a train ride or a long road trip. Mucho if it stands up when you listen closer. The only downsides are that it can get boring, like the last few songs on this album, since Beamer used up all his hooks on the earlier, meatier tracks. Incidentally, it’s sure been a long time (~9 years) since I’ve eaten meat, and I can say the following:

1) Thinking it smells good has never gone away.
2) Fake meat technology has come a long way, and you can recreate a lot of things quite well with a little practice.
3) A few things, like chicken skin, are irreplaceable and that just has to be accepted.
4) I’m way happier with my day to day life then I was when I spent years doing something that filled me with shame and sorrow on a nightly basis. So there’s that, and it’s kinda a big deal in terms of self-esteem.

That’s all very boring. I’ve written this review to procrastinate instead of because I’m drunk, and that’s always a mistake. New Iron and Wine good, though really old Iron and Wine better. They’re not unique anymore, but they are a very good indie-folk/country/pop band. Not a lot of lyrical growth, but where the stakes are in the lyrical ground is a neat-o location.
I spent too much time thinking about food. How can I stop? I spent at least an hour every day focused on what to have and when, and how to save the right amount for my girlfriend’s lunch, and how to most effectively, obsessively use all the things in the cupboard. We have too much flour and too many black eyed beans. But I don’t see Iron and Wine writing a song about that yet. Don’t I DESERVE to see an Iron and Wine song about that? Why does this man refuse to write a song about a common man like me? I’ve earned it by working in offices and commuting – what has he done? I’ve been shut out of the business of making Iron and Wine’s songs for too long, and I’m mad as hell about it. This is why I’m voting Rob Ford in the next election. He’ll stick it to all these artists who think they’re too good to write songs about me, plus he saved the city 3 trillion dollars.

8 / 10

Iron and Wine – Next to Paradise / Dirty Dream

A special vinyl-only single released for Record Store Day or some such musician Christmas thing, and showing a callous disregard for the fate of those record stores, because these two songs aren’t very good.
Okay, it’d be silly to expect I&W to release their best two songs on what is essentially a charity single, but hey, if Pearl Jam could up and make “Last Kiss” just like that, why can’t literally every other band?
NtP (as the kids call it) is a slow, doddering piano track that fails at summing up life’s experiences succinctly, while “Dirty Dream” is a two-minute shuffle that’s notable mostly for its funny title. Might be a nice morning wake-up song, but there are many better ones out there. Like on the next album. I don’t like writing cover letters. Why can’t I just be headhunted for sitting at home learning things?

5 / 10

Iron and Wine – 4AD Sessions

Five songs of just acoustic guitar and Sam Beam’s singing. Three of the songs are from Kiss and Each Other Clean, one is from the debut album The Creek Drank the Cradle, and one, “Biting Your Tail,” is from the Walking Far From Home single. At least I think so. Three of the songs are, in order “Tree By the River,” “Biting Your Tail,” and “Upward Over the Mountain.” How do I know this? Because Sam Beam tells me before playing each one. But other two….? Sure, they sound a lot like “Big Burned Hand” and “Half Moon,” but how can I be sure? They could be totally different songs that are just extremely similar to those two. But we have to proceed as if they are those two, otherwise we’ll be stuck in this paragraph FOREVVVVER.
Ah, the acoustic guitar. My favourite instrument. Not to cast dispersions on your own favourite noise-makers, but can any other instrument convey such range of emotion and human experience? The happiness of G, the sadness of E minor, the tension of F, the horror-movie cheese of D minor. Soothing make out soundtracks, angry rebellion, Steve Earle the addicted and Steve Earle the recovering. Singers can be pretentious, of course, but the acoustic guitar on its own rarely so. The acoustic guitar sounds like the present – some instruments sound old fashioned and some sound awkwardly like the future, but the acoustic guitar has an understandable timbre that sounds like the truth. It can make white noise sound good, just like it can with spaced-out single notes. The guitar is the only instrument that can reliably carry a song on its own, can sound like winter or summer, like falling in love and losing it. It sounds great when you play it normally, it whispers when you play it softly, and it still sounds great when you play its strings off. Unless you play it like a dumbass.
The big problem here is that the new songs just aren’t that special, even if they sound fantastic in this simple form, and Sam Beam’s still a lovely singer without doing his whispery thing like he did back in the old folky days of early I&W. “Tree By the River” might sound great to someone not versed in the I&W catalogue, but to me the tale of long-remembered unrequited love is a letdown topically. First of all, tales of long-remembered requited love are far more poignant. Second of all, this is an easy attempt to induce nostalgia for the Beamer. Third of all, I don’t appreciate the lyrical twist of the last line. Fourth of all, there are half a dozen I&W songs that do this same thing only better, not to mention Tom Waits’ “Martha.” Not that it’s a bad song or anything, just an easy one. “Big Burned Hand” seems very proud of how it says “fuck” once, sounds quite a bit like “Free Until They Cut Me Down,” and lacks hooks without its blaring horns. And “Half Moon” is just pleasant as a deep cut.
The other two songs though – whee! “Biting Your Tail” was wrecked by production, because its sort of heartfelt, simplistic benediction works FAR better on just guitar. “May your hands be strong and willing / May you know when to speak and to listen / May you find every friend that you’re missing / There’s no cheque in the mail,” for instance. “Someday may we all be happy / Someday all make a face worth slapping / Someday we may be shocked to be laughing / At the way we behave,” for another example. And “Upward Over the Mountain” – golly, remember “Upward Over the Mountain!?” Now that’s a gorgeous song, and it sounds nice here reduced to three minutes. The way Beam has no gap between the words “rise” and “hope” in the chorus? Brilliant! Dat heartbreaking and ambiguous tale of a dog giving birth! It’s nostalgic, hopeful, and terribly sad all at once.
Hey, here’s a joke:

Just kidding, a unicyclist with a big floppy hat is not funny.

7 / 10

Iron and Wine – Walking Far From Home

Dear Dia—music review site, what’s bothering me today? Well, for starters, I’m a 29 year-old man who maintains a public-facing confessional in order to soothe my swollen brain. But beyond that, let’s deal with this here Giraffe! And by “Giraffe!” I mean “EP!”
Which isn’t really correct, because this is more of an old-timey single with a shiny, catchy A-side, and two lesser tracks as B-sides, neither of which were the iTunes bonus tracks on the album, those jerks.
“Walking Far From Home” is a fantastic song, and I don’t even care if you tell me negative-sounding things about it that are true, like “it’s just a cool vocal melody” because it’s it’s a cool as FUCK vocal melody. Not putting a pause in the middle of your lines and irregularly repeating a few words is so basic. And I don’t care if you say “it might as well be an extended last verse of ‘It’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ with extra biblical allusions” because it’s true that it’s a list of “I saw a”-s, said images are pretty and evocative, like “I saw sickness, blooming fruit trees” or “I saw a prisoner take a gun / And say ‘join me in song, join me in song.’” And if you say “it doesn’t make me feel much of anything” you’re wrong, because the central sentiment of walking far from home should make you feel on its own. And I don’t care if you say “nothing happens in the last minute” because you need that last minute to calm down from the greatness of the previous four. QED, haterz.
B-side the first is “Summer In Savannah” and the second is “Biting Your Tail” and I don’t know why the second gets more love than the first on the interwebs, SIS (as I call it colloquially) isn’t particularly memorable melodically but has a Synchronicity-era Police vibe, and in what was missing from the album is actually about earthbound and understandishable topics. Summer in Savannah, where it’s really hot, and childhoods are confusing, and the world’s a subway subway! “We trapped a hornet in a teacup for fun / We cut off his head but still got stung / I think Jesus said you reap what you sow”? Yes, please! BYT (also short for ‘Bitty Young Thing’) is equally meh musically, relying on a cheesy drum machine for percussion, but lyrically is a wish for an unnamed subject to live a happy life accepting of it’s many mysteries and blah blah. I think people just like it because they wish The Beamer was singing about them, as he tickled them by rubbing his beard delicately into their stomachs. Not that it’s a bad song or anything.
I’m starting to feel a bit better for some reason this hour, but basically for the last two days I haven’t had energy to do anything other than sleep too late and waste my life. I’ve kept up on going to the gym, but when I get there I only have energy to go on the elliptical and go back home. I feel heavy in my stomach, and I’m convinced I’m going to end up in a gutter, alone and destitute and crazy, in five to ten years. I mean, objectively, I’m a mentally ill unemployed guy. How can it possibly be okay to not be okay? The last few months have been frustrating, because for a change I got my shit together enough to seek help like a responsible person, and guess what? Nobody wants to see me, because my issues are weird! Hurray! Unemployment? Totally my fault, obviously, but some days the combination of things makes it tough to get out of bed, and yes I know it’s my fault. But gosh darn tootin’ I am applying for things, but nothing’s come of the last couple months, and I desperately want to avoid going back to the temp mill and working for barely more than minimum wage, surrounded (generally) by public servants who hate their own unions and don’t realize that without them they’d be in my position. But without work my mental health degrades much more rapidly. For example, tonight, April 17, 2014, was the night that I, a 29 year-old man, poured boiling water on my arm because I was mad at myself for not wanting to be around people (and mad at my girlfriend for telling me that I need to suck it up and be around people anyway). When I type it out I feel even worse, but I suppose the truth is supposed to set me free. But the only place it makes me feel like being is alone with a lot of drugs until I am rightfully evicted. And I’m sober right now. I’m exercising restraint and this is still what an idiot I am. God, what an idiot.
And now it’s the next morning, and my first thought when I wake up (after yet another night of not getting to sleep until hours after I went to bed, which is torture) is “I want to kill myself.” Then my second is “I wish I had a job, so that I had anything to think about other than wanting to kill myself.” Which is nice in that at least I don’t want to be a leech on society, but not exactly conducive to the kind of positive pavement-pounding that finding a job requires. I haven’t had a drink in days…why? I quit smoking…why? To live longer? Why would I do that when I hate being alive? Now I’m on the verge of tears, alone in front of my computer. And I’m a 29 year-old man. Almost 30, and I’m basically still a whining teenager. But the feelings and pain never went away, and I’m going to end up like my suicidal mother. My life holds joy at times, but there’s so much more pain and sadness and whining whining whining, so why am I doing this? Well, I kind of know why – because I’m scared of pain, and I don’t want to hurt the thankfully reducing number of people who care about me, and because somewhere in me is someone who’d be sad if the little joyful things were replaced by forever blackness. But it’s seeming more and more like a logical decision. People around me will move on, just like they would if I moved to Belize for the rest of my life.

7 / 10

Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Another day, another Iron and Wine album recorded in a day. No wonder they all SUCK so much! Dude just records them all in a day! But this one’s way different, because it has a funky title. I mean, really, what’s he talking about, DOGS? But with licking instead of kissing? Because it’d take a whole lotta frenching to fully clean a dirty who-man.
Lots of commercials have jingles these days, and that’s a good idea, because a good jingle lasts a long time. Just like how i’ll remember the melody from “Walking Far From Home” for a long time. That was a terrible and unnecessary segue, but listen: Iron and Wine says every line with a pause in mid-thought, like this: “I was walking…far from home.” That’s really the only ONLY thing the song does, because otherwise it’s just a bunch of non-rhythm instruments, but golly, that one vocal hook! To be heard to be believed, and on the basis of that WFFH is that best song on here.
Which is a shame, because it’s the only really memorable song on here. If you think I’m going to put another four-letter word in all capitals you’re WAY off, but Iron and Wine are missing their chance to be the next Simon and Garfunkel by self-describing themselves as a “Glad Man Singing,” and recycling themes like biblical overtones and nostalgia for teenaged romance. I mean, those are important and all, but it’s played out by this point without the previous benefits of being beard’n’melody songs. Now with even more whiz-bangy effects and fewer memorable melodies.
There are few moments of quiet here, with everything being filled with keyboards and horns and xylophones and wah-wah pedals, but whats missing, compared to early material, is the emotional heft that Mr. Wine’s songs used to carry. Mr. Iron sings just as pretty, and it’s never bad, but gosh, it fades away likes so many Fleetwood Mac songs after awhile. Okay, “Big Burned Hand” is pretty good too, and that one hook of “Walking Far From Home’ is fucking killer, but “Tree By the River” is no “Sixteen, Maybe Less,” and “Black Candle” doesn’t go anywhere, and “Half Moon” doesn’t depict a situation that actually ever happens. The lack of lyrical precision is a problem for me in general, because I’m a fan of good mouthwords.
Okay, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me” is cool too, but that outré goes on for like four minutes. It’s nice that through the album title Messrs Iron and Wine are telling us all what they’re doing in private, but maybe they should try getting back to writing good songs. You know, just once. For old time’s sake. Still very pleasant, though.

6 / 10

Iron and Wine – Norfolk 20/05/06

A live album, but far from a necessary one. In contrast to the fun and cautiously experimental Bonnarooooooooo live album, this one features nearly song played just like the album version, or with a few extra trills thrown in (“On Your Wings” has some bongos and a cute “rockin” guitar at the end, and “Woman King” has an extra fuzz-bass), but it’s mostly like listening to live studio recordings of songs that are beautiful but live only translate into the same songs with funny accent.
A few, mostly older songs get zazzed up a bit, but in the same ways they are at said BonnarooooooooOOOooo show. To wit: “Bread Stealing Bread” becomes a soft country lilted instead of a beardy guitar song, “Upward Over The Mountain” sounds great as an indie rocker, “Teeth In the Grass” isn’t fooling anyone as a bassy rock song, but works nonetheless, and “The Trapeze Swinger” still works as a finger-picked thinger instead of a strummed thinger.
Also, The Beamer is still not great at stage banter, so you won’t get that out of it. At the start he asks how everybody’s doing, and when they cheer he sounds surprised and says “…yeah?” as if he thought someone might say “just twisted my ankle, so only okay.” Then he breaks into the song. And later he says Norfolk’s really special, and doesn’t even try to make it believable. Fun fact, people from Norfolk prefer to be called Norfucks.
Also, nearly every song fades out at its end, which don’t make no sense for a live album, and seems planned to avoid letting us hear any banter. But don’t ask me, I’m not a toaster oven.

Sincerely,
Myles’s toaster oven.

Overall. we’re looking at seven honkin’ songs from Our Endless Numbered Days, four of the five from the “Woman King” EP, only three from The Creek Drank the Cradle, one B-side (the excellent acoustic number “Communion Cups and Someone’s Coat), one from The Sea and the Rhythm (“The Night Descending,” which is cut to two minutes for some reason), and one from a soundtrack (“El Loco Trapeze Swingero”). And why does he play so many wrong notes in the intro to “On Your Wings?” That is seriously not okay.

6 / 10