Proper album number two from Beardy O’Softvoice! What’s comforting about Iron and WIne is the gestalt of the aesthetic. The songs are about what they “should” be about, and Sam Beam (who is both Mr. Iron and Mr. Wine) never breaks character, to the extent that if I met him and he got rip roaring drunk and talked endlessly about his masturbatory habits and how he wants to move to Manhattan I’d be shocked.
And what is that gestalt? Gentle, acoustic guitar-led, usually finger-picked ruminations on the brevity and beauty of life. It’s restrained and enigmatic, comforting and wistful, hopeful and nostalgic. Terrible workout music. Good dinner party music, but even better if you spend a couple hours to actually listen.
Still almost entirely acoustic guitar, slide guitar, and banjo, but now he has himself an actual studio, so the production values are higher and there’s the occasional trill to garnish things. Nothing dramatic, but a few gentle backup vocals here and there, or some brushy drums tapping along in the background. Nothing ever takes precedence other than the gentle guitar and Beam’s breathy, moist voice, so I hope you’re in the mood. No hooks come from the accompaniment.
I have a few quibbles, like “Cinder and Smoke” being too six minutes longish for it’s level of interesting, and the tracklisting frontloading the album with songs with similar picking patterns and saving all the breaking pitches for the second half. Also, there’s a perfectly lovely song about birth and love and death and stuff called “Naked As We Came,” which I can never hear without thinking about silly that title is in today’s era of me being a manchild that loves puerile humour. Like this: the last time I heard that song I was naked. And I came. Hee! Haw! Yes, the “Naked As We Came” jokes are endless around these parts.
But the aforementioned breaking pitches? They’re wonderful breaks from the usual! I love the brief falsetto-y lullaby (Beam can pull it off) “Radio War,” and I love the accessible “Free Until They Cut Me Down,” where Beam and the band actually get a little excited, and I love the closer “Passing Afternoon,” which is maybe the most accessible thing here, so far as gently strummed ruminations can be accessible. But you can still be a smarty pants and notice how each verse covers a different season of passing afternoons. The moody “Teeth in the Grass” is charming as well, and the rest, the fastballs, are uniformly solid. Like blankets, all snuggly and agnostic and iced tea. It’s still not for the androgen-drenched angry teens out there, but for everyone else…what are you gonna do, come with all your clothes on? That could get messy! Hee haw! Hee haw!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Some copies came with a special (pronounced “expensive” since it was the days before mass digital downloading) bonus CD that has four extra songs on it. Two are demos – one of “Cinder and Smoke,” my least favourite song from the album, and one of “Free Until They Cut Me Down” – that don’t differ enough from their album versions to have good reason to be released. The latter lacks the album version’s drums, but we didn’t The other two are legit outtakes, one is the gentle post-breakup tale “Swans and the Swimming” that maybe pushes the sweet imagery a bit too far with the line “Now the rain is as soft as a lover’s words,” but your mileage will vary since it’s otherwise quite lovely, and the other, “Hickory,” is to my ears a bit too hookless, but is nice. Easy to see why it’s not cut for the album, but hey, they’re bonus tracks, aight? I’m truly sorry for any I & dub fans I may have offended. I’m really, really terribly sorry, I know you’re all violent people.
9 / 10