Since 2002, Sam Beam has been responsible for some of the most beguiling alternative folk sounds to come out of the US. It was only in 2007, however, that Iron & Wine made a mark on the mainstream, with the South Carolina native's most adept, varied album yet. Four years later, its follow up blends the folksy intimacy of those early records with the genre-bending nature of 'The Shepherd's Dog', and throws a few more experimental ideas into the mix for good measure.
With the slow, fuzzy lilt of 'Walking Far from Home', Beam proves he's as capable of writing a beautifully rousing melody now as he's ever been, but that's not really what this album's is about. If anything, 'Kiss Each Other Clean' is about having a little fun with the Iron & Wine format. 'Big Burned Hand', in particular, shows a previously unseen side to Iron & Wine, a funky side based on bending bass and wandering sax. 'Rabbit Will Run', too, breaks the mould with tribal influences and jazz flute, while minor chords and throbbing synths make 'Monkeys Uptown' mildly eerie. And by changing tack halfway through 'Your Fake Name Is Good Enough', building layer upon layer of cyclical vocals with jazzy sax and squealing guitars, the seven minute closer becomes one of the album's finest offerings.
Yet for all its innovation, 'Kiss Each Other Clean' often falls back into old territory, with the slide guitar and simple plucking of 'Half Moon' sounding as if they could have come directly off 'The Creek Drank The Cradle'. A strong debut album in its own right, that's little criticism, but when compared with the level of imagination and creativity Beam displays here, there's no competition.