Album review: Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
It’s been four years since Sam Beam last graced us with some solo Iron & Wine music. We’ve had a couple of collaborative efforts with Ben Bridwell (Band Of Horses) and Jesca Hoop but Beam is always at his best when exploring his own muse. 2013’s Ghost On Ghost was a sonic triumph, a difficult-to-pigeonhole cosmic blend of jazz, psychedelia, R&B, pop, folk and blues that reminded this listener of nothing less than Van Morrison’s majestic Astral Weeks.
Beam has experimented with genre and arrangement throughout his career but Beast Epic sees a definite return to the simpler songwriting structures and style of his earlier work. Whilst it feels like a return it doesn’t feel like a backwards step and there are little flourishes in the instrumentation and arrangement of these songs that draw on the musical journey Beam has travelled over the last fifteen years.
The songs draw on themes that Beam has consistently revisited, that of the passage of time and the mark it leaves on us. Where his earlier material often examined the transition from youth to adulthood these newer songs, in Beam’s own words, “speak to the beauty and pain of growing up after you’ve already grown up”.
As usual Beam’s voice is perfection, a wonderfully rich, warm and vulnerable whisper that combined with the subtle instrumentation and intimate production that creates the impression that the band are playing just to you on your own back porch. Highlights include the conversational opener Claim Your Ghost and the beautiful Song In Stone but the whole album is a rich and rewarding experience. Sam Beam once again shows his uncanny ability to make an album that instantly feels like a long lost friend from the first listen that few artists can match.
Beast Epic is released on Friday August 25 on Label via Inertia Music
Review by Neil Martin