Iron and Wine – The Sea and the Rhythm

Ah, unemployment! The excitement and the glamour! The daily routine of exercise, applications, guitar practice, and feeling useless! The sinking feeling when a job posted two days ago is taken down, likely because of nepotism! The nagging feeling that your girlfriend is going to leave you because she’s starting to think you’re a loser and the solemn sensation that she’s right!
You know what’s awful about looking for work? Many things, but here are but two: 1. It’s not cumulative. I practice guar. I’m shitty, but every time I practice I become slightly less shitty. A month ago I could play songs with basic chords at 50 beats per minute. Now I can play them at 60 beats per minute. There’s no similar measurable progress in finding work. I spent three hours applying for a job on Tuesday. Thursday I checked the listing and it was already down, which means they found someone internal or through nepotism. What did I get for my three Tuesday hours? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! I would have gained more life experience from reading about snakes for those three hours! I’ve been out of work for just over a month, and I’m nowhere closer to having a job than I was the first Monday I woke as an unemployed person. And 2. The ease in wasting a day. I was tired today, and I had an appointment with a psychiatrist (another fun rant waiting for that one). So I got up, after not much sleep, and went to my appointment, which ran over time , then came home and napped. Then I ate lunch, went to the gym, and did the shopping for the weekend. Then I napped again. And now it’s almost 7:00! It’s time to cook dinner from my gf and I, and I haven’t even practiced guitar or applied for a job like I’m supposed to do every day at least once! And it’s not I feel like I did nothing today – I performed just about to the best of my abilities as a really tired dude. But when I was working, I’d just push through it, and at the end of the day I’d have roughly $100 more than I did at the start.
And C) This Iron and Wine release is comprised entirely of songs previously released on harder to find records. Not that it’s bad, in fact it’s the best way to find high quality versions of these five lightly composed, lovely, but simple songs, but come on, at least throw in a Metallica cover or two for the amateur reviewer who downloaded all your bootlegs.
Here’s what I said about these songs, in order: There’s also a forgettable track called “Someday the Waves” that never makes an impression on me. Seconder “Jesus the Mexican Boy” is a five minute reflection of a very nice guy named Jesus even though he isn’t Christ. The point of humanity needing to be good regardless of deity is well taken, but it also lacks a good musical hook, and while the way Beam says the song’s title is memorable, it bothers me that he pronounces it “Jesus” instead of like “Hay-Zooss.” Get it right, you racist! Ditto for The Sea and the Rhythm’s “The Night Descending.” (Note: this doesn’t make sense in context – “The Night Descending” is the best on here, with dat neat descending guitar line) Opener “The Sea and the Rhythm” (great name for an EP there!) is six minutes (editor’s notice: now five minutes!) of lovely but ehhhh metaphors for sex as making sweet poetic love on a beach and doesn’t go much of anywhere musically. But neither do most Iron and Wine songs, right? Maybe this is great for new couples, I don’t know. I’m more into fucking, but that’s just me.
I also described “Beneath the Balcony” as “not all that,” which I stand by. Though there is a surprisingly frantic banjo in the mix which you might like, provided that’s what you’re into.

Okay, I’m done reviewing now. Can I have a job, Pitchfork?

6 / 10

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Iron and Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle

Iron and Wine’s lead singer (and on this album only band mamba at all) isn’t particularly old, but other than that he looks just like he sounds: a kindly, long-bearded man who lives in rural Texas with his five daughters. That he’s a hipsterified version of all that shouldn’t offend anyone – these songs are thoroughly good. Good enough to make you nostalgic for the childhood you never had and envious of kids who’ve never known a wind chill of thirty below.
Or at least to live in a world where allergies don’t exist. Man, this is the weakest weakness ever – I catsit for two freaking days and now I spend an entire day sneezing until blood flies out of my ruptured nose-capillaries and I get all puffed up and ashamed to be seen by the other residents of my co-op. Okay, never mind that, but there’s a world where the pines are fragrant, and you brew tea for your wife and read a book, and somewhere there’s a higher power, and somewhere a wagon rides on a swampy trail, with a steep hill in the distance. Somewhere a boy rides the rails, somewhere where winter brings a frost or two, and a scythe looks like crops instead of the Grim Reaper; somewhere where teenaged boys love their mothers, somewhere where cars, if they exist, are objects of romantic escape instead of dreary commutes. Sam Beam sings of all this on a four-track recorder in his bedroom with only his breathy old-man voice, usually finger-picked guitar, some slide guitar, and banjo. No rhythm section, and no rhythm guitar.
Everything here is a winner, particularly the opener “Lion’s Mane”, even though it gets a bit emo. “Love is a tired symphony you hum while you’re awake”? Yes, yes, teach me of your wisdom! I am sneezy and I just want to drink tea all day. But everything chugs along, being beautiful and leafy, the whole way. Sparse but never slow. The only give-away is that the hooks have pop sensibility, which is good for a city rat like me. So you’ll remember the perfect augmentation of slide guitar on “Upward Over the Mountain”, the unresolved picking of “Lion’ Mane”, the uplift in the chorus of “Southern Anthem”, the staccato notes on “The Rooster Moans”. It’s all fairly calculated, but it feels like it’s coming from an honest place, and it’s oh so easy to digest. Like ghee to the part of my heart that needs to visit rural Georgia.
It’s apolitical, agnostic, and equally uninterested in modern complications and bragging about simplicity. Of course, it’s all very low-key and if you aren’t listening you’ll miss the whole vibe, so there’s that to dissuade me on night when I’m going out. But golly I don’t need every music to be gym music. Somewhere the air is thick and bees hum and the grass is tall and the blues are just a passing bird. This I believe; this is one of the things music has taught me.

But wait! There’s more!

If you’re among the very unlucky few who have the free 7″ single that came with this album (and certainly never found in a torrent), you’ll know that there are two “bonus tracks,” or “boner tracks” as you’ll call them if they’re huge mistakes (or “boners”) or if they give you throbbing erections (or “boners”). One is “Her Tea Leaves”, which really goes to show that what I said about rustic people brewing tea is true, and the other is “Carissa’s Weird”, which goes to show that Mr. Beam has a least a passing familiarity with that old school indie-emo band. And don’t say “but Myles, all old school emo is indie”, because what about Evanescence? Anyway, neither of the bonus tracks are anything special. The former goes to the “Lion’s Mane”-style well one time too many and doesn’t back it up with another hook, and the latter hasn’t a hook at all other than being a girl named Carissa who is presumably quite weird, which is nice. You might think it’s a coincidence, but look at the way the song is spelled; it’s a reference.

9 / 10

Iron and Wine – Tour EP

A nice six-song souvenir from 2002’s “Pussy and Beer” tour that I&W did with Buckcherry. Very much in the style of very Iron and Wine, these are unaccompanied home recordings, very low fidelity (they’d star JOAN Cusack), and if not for Beam’s unique and kindly inflections they wouldn’t go much of anywhere. But since this is I&W they cross into “pretty nice” easily, and a couple of them even have musical hooks (!). Of course, those are the ones that got remade and improved later.
Opener “The Sea and the Rhythm” (great name for an EP there!) is six minutes of lovely but ehhhh metaphors for sex as making sweet poetic love on a beach and doesn’t go much of anywhere musically. But neither do most Iron and Wine songs, right? Maybe this is great for new couples, I don’t know. I’m more into fucking, but that’s just me.
Seconder “Jesus the Mexican Boy” is a five minute reflection of a very nice guy named Jesus even though he isn’t Christ. The point of humanity needing to be good regardless of deity is well taken, but it also lacks a good musical hook, and while the way Beam says the song’s title is memorable, it bothers me that he pronounces it “Jesus” instead of like “Hay-Zooss.” Get it right, you racist!
Thirder and Fifther “Red Dust” and “Overhead” (later remade as “Burn That Broken Bed”) are the two most musically interesting tracks here. The former has a good stoic wild West riff thing going on, and the latter has a cool accent-on-syncopated-strums thing going on, but the former sputters out after just two minutes, and the latter lacks the muscle to make it a real standout. Like how critical I am, even of things I like a lot?
There’s also a forgettable track called “Someday the Waves” that never makes an impression on me, but the good thing about I&W is that even the backgrounders leave a nice taste in your ear. There’s also the closer “Dead Man’s Will,” which is one of my least favourite I&W tracks and seems doomed to follow me on to half of all releases. I mean, the lyrics are a list of all the things he’d give his relatives and the things they’d remind them of, but I think it’s more than a bit wishy-washy. His brother get a stone, his father a bone, and his mother a string. Yeah, yeah, supposedly they’re connected to sentimental memories, but you really think his mother is going to look at a string as the last memory of her dead son and think “oh yeah…that shirt I unfurled one time!” No. The answer is no.
But it’s nearly impossible to hate on this release, because even in its worst moments we have Sam Beam and his guitar being all likeable and Southern and such. This is completely unnecessary, since every song on here is available elsewhere, but it’s still charming.

7 / 10

Iron and Wine – Home Recordings (2002)

Volume the second of recordings of just Sam Beam, his nice guitars, and his bedroom. This one is a little lot less essential, since, of the eleven songs here, nine are available in higher-fi versions on more widely available releases. On the plus side, that makes this a better piece of collected music, since the songs that went on to live elsewhere tend to be the ones that were more interesting in the first place.
If you’re big on just Sam and his gee-tar (or his SHE-tar if he considers it to be a female), then you’ll love the early versions of “A History Of Lovers” and “He Lays in the Reins,” although I prefer the later full-band arrangements on “In The Reins.” The latter, in particular, suffers from reallyslownotveryinterestingsongitis until it gets musical hooks. The former still has wonderfully cynical lyrics about love (“cuckold some men they’re remember bitterly / Fuck ’em they’ll come back for more”) and all that but still no propulsion.
And if you’re a fan of songs that have the good things, you’ll enjoy “Love and Some Verses,” “Teeth in the Grass,” and “Sunset and Soon Forgotten,” but they’re all slightly improved for the album “Our Endless Numbered Days.” Ditto for The Sea and the Rhythm’s “The Night Descending.” The pretty okay “Hickory” and the sentimentality-buttered “Swans and the Swimming” appear on OEND’s bonus CD, too. Though reflect for a second on the sadness of the line “Take me again / She said, thinking of him / To the pond with the swans the swimming.” Siiiiggghhh.
Lastly, everyone’s favourite Israelite queen whore thing shows up for “Jezebel,” here more stripped down than it’d be later on the “Woman King” EP. Unless you’re really good looking there’s no need to get all stripped down for this one.
That leaves just three tracks that you really need this lover for. They’re all predictably good, though! “Mothers of the Rodeo” has a nice choral feel and a nice little lilt, even if it’s not the best ever, “Wade Across the Water” is freakishly beautiful even if I have no idea what he’s singing about and it’s not catchy. It’s nice and brief too.
But that’s it! It’s hard to be too adoring of a bunch o’ songs that are mostly availsies elsewhere, but taken for what it is it’s a reliably very nice listen, and songs of these songs are, to be fair, hard to find. Oh, and Iron and Wine! So nostalgic! So headache-healing! So Home Recordings 2002licious!

7 /10

Iron and Wine – Home Recordings (2001)

While I always feel a twinge of guilt taking advantage of an artist’s boot legs, I want the sweet, sweet unreleased recordings. So here I am. Just me and these ‘legs. Me and my ‘legs.
Presumably this is a bunch of home recordings from 2001, so someone should really give this album that title. It sounds about right – these sounds like slightly less sprightly songs that would show up on The Creek Drank the Cradle – just soft, Southern-fried young man with an old heart vocals over a single acoustic track and the occasional slide guitar. The guitars are almost all finger-picked and therefore rarely carry the hooks, instead letting gentle vocal hooks do the work, so the worst a song ever gets is forgettable.
It’s a lot of the same kind of thing, especially since these don’t have any significant production differences, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who truly disliked these songs. Basically, if you don’t know the gist of I&W then check out a few other reviews here and come back. None of these songs appear on Sam’s first two albums, though maybe are available elsewhere, so it’s a good listen if you just need more of that Irony, Winey goodness, but it’s certainly not essential. Maybe you’re in the mood for songs with very nice elements and zero propulsion (I know I am sometimes), but this isn’t going to get you out of bed any time, or impress your friends that aren’t into the band.
Don’t get me wrong, Sam Beam generally comes across here as a talented and sleepy poet, but a few of the songs here – usually the ones that don’t reappear elsewhere – often have nothing but niceness going on. These – “Minor Piano Keys,” “Beneath the Balcony,” “The Sea and the Rhythm,” just aren’t all that. Of the rest, a few sound nicer when they get redone, and a few sound nicer without the context of a bazillion songs just like them. But I totally dig the creepy husbandicide of “Dearest Forsaken,” the shuffling moodiness of the otherwise unreleased “Rattling Bone,” the melodious way Beam sings the title of “Jesus the Mexican Boy, and the country lilt of “God Gave A Stone,” even if it sounds like the verse of The Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit,” which is unfortunate. My favourite, the lovely and wistful “Sixteen, Maybe Less,” get redone with the help of Calexico years later and yanks my crank clean off, so the version here comes across as missing its hooks.
So it comes down to this: do you already like Iron and Wine? If not, I’d get one of their actual albums, where the song criteria isn’t “has nobody heard this before.” Then take a nice bubble bath, as your reward for finding a neat-o new band. If you’re a fan it’s obviously rather essential, since it’s a honking’ 11 hard to find recordings, and none of them sound like complete throwaways – just songs demonstrating a precocious talent for making the same kind of songs he would quickly get even better at creating. I’m not sure what kind of a sentence that is, but I’m rolling with it.

7 / 10

Mother Mother – The Sticks

A bit of a return to form without being a self-conscious rejection of the last five years. This is good – usually self-conscious returns tend towards being shitty facsimiles of a band’s glory years. Here MM aren’t exactly moving forward, but they’re reclaiming a bit of the old magic while still trying way too hard to make it big.
Like, really, it’s still early Mother Mother crossed with fucking Collective Soul. The best songs are easily the ones featuring their old style of acoustic way-up-the-neck guitar picking, with extra emphasis on whatever glimpses of self-expression you can find. To be fair, there are far more of both here than on the last album, and the heartbreaking “Dread In My Heart” is the real winner here. Otherwise… do you like alt-rock guitars with….stumpy Zeppelin drums? Then the title track might be just for you! How about with really simple lyrics about how lots of animals have sex? Then there’s a cute little lead single for you that isn’t at all reminiscent of the White Stripes’ “Instinct Blues.”
Look, i’m all for themes, and struggling to be happy in a shitty world and seeking to escape from said world are fine themes and all, but themes along can’t make a career, and I miss the quirky, folky wonders these guys used to be. The production tricks are still present and irritating – dig that awful “someone not in the song is yelling at you!” intro to “Cry Forum” for instance – and themes can’t make lyrics like “drugs can make a fuck last all night long” anything other than annoying, especially when they’re over a languid MuchMoreMusic beat.
But look, I’m all for simplicity when it works, so “Let’s Fall In Love” and “Love It Dissipates” are fine with me. I’m just nostalgic, you know? Seven years ago Mother Mother meant something, “man,” now they’re at one truly great song in two albums’ time, and it’s the one that sounds like their first album. The improvement here is that there’s a lot of “good” songs going on. Also quite a few failed attempts to create a ”rockin’ good time” so there’s that on the other side. But this ain’t no whiz-bang-pop, just a mere bang-fizz-shwizzle, so if you’re in the mood for that snorta thningk then the schmer, but if you’re unemployed and you have a music review blog and you need to listen several times to complete your Mother Mother reviews then it’s not so bad.

6 / 10

Mother Mother – Eureka

First of all, I don’t get why it’s okay to be a dickbag to people who don’t have kids. I was at a party last Friday, having a discussion about social policy (admittedly I was saying that the state should pay people on welfare for not having children they can’t care for), and a friend’s girlfriend, apropos not that much, interjected to tell me that if I don’t have kids then nobody will care about me when I’m old. Then, when I tried to ignore her she repeated it, only loudly so that everyone could hear. She’s normally a very demure, domestic character, so I can only gather that she thinks it’s socially acceptable to get all personal if it’s in the service of telling me I’m going to die alone. And I’m a guy; I have trouble imagining how annoying that’d be for a 29 year-old woman with no kids. Which is a lot of them, so what the hell?
And no, I’m not in a hurry to introduce another unwilling participant into the game of trying to battle suicidal thoughts every other day, which seems to be my genetic line’s lot. Why, this entire unemployed morning of mine was taken up by trying to order my dead mother’s birth certificate so that I can one day apply for Irish citizenship, because that’d be super neat, don’t you think?
And if they keep putting out albums like this one, their musical offspring will be stuck trying to order MOTHER MOTHER’S birth certificate, or something, because er…this album isn’t very good and stuff.
This album doesn’t sound much like Mother Mother, and while I’m all for artistic growth, these songs sound like a batch of kinda meh Mother Mother songs run through the Early Aughts-Production-O-Tron. There are random voice samples and production “tricks” all over the place, the drums are mixed way too loud, and the guitars are all glossy like a shitty Christian rock album. It’s like they’re trying to hit a weird chord of radio-ready “edginess”, angsty yelping, and still functioning art, and none it works like it should. There are big power chord guitars that drop in for musical breaks and choruses. There are blippy “voice appears and disappears” samples. There’s obnoxious speak-singing. There’s ain’t-I-cute really high notes. There are drum machines that come in for two bars then disappear. God, it’s almost unlistenable.
Here’s a couple more examples, both from the Prozzak-wannabe song “The Stand”: They blurred out the f-word all songs for no reason, then say it at the end, again for no real reason. Then the singer guy laughs at this hilarity like a total dipshit. Secondly, when the song mentions vodka on ice the production team thought it’d be nice to put in the ice clinking sound effect.
It’d maybe be more tolerant if the songs were spectacular, but they never get past being merely catchy. Especially “My Baby Don’t Dance,” but even that is halfway ruined by over the top attempts at cuteness. I get that we all want to have hits, but shiny production isn’t a surefire way to do it. And don’t get me started on the steady stream of uncute, unfunny couplets that pop up four or five times per song to make me roll my fucking eyes. I can’t anymore, it’s too infuriating, knowing how good these guys are capable of being.
On the plus side, that did help with my complaining about mental health and people hurting my fee-fees. So shitty music works in funny ways. Gotta run some errands. Thanks for the motivation, Mother Mother!

3 / 10