Iron and Wine refines acoustic niche

By Elizabeth Zakaim
Arts & Entertainment Editor

‘Beast Epic’ features fresh, relaxing tracks. (Sub Pop Records)

Usually, the only time I listen to Iron and Wine’s smooth whispery vocals is if a song pops up on my Pandora playlist. I’m an old fan of his song, “Flightless Bird American Mouth,” and his cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” And while I can’t say I’m a devoted fan, nor was I waiting at the edge of my seat for his new album to come out when it did on Aug. 25, I can wholeheartedly agree that “Beast Epic” is nothing less than a pleasure to experience.

“Beast Epic” is an album inspired by a concept that affects us all — time. No matter our age, we are always in some state of transition, Sam Beam, the singer behind the stage name, said on his website. With “Beast Epic,” Beam paints a picture of time passing by, rites of passage and coming of age throughout his tracks.

Beam has done what many artists these days are deciding to avoid — he’s staying true to his own sound, and further burrowing himself in a comfortable niche. The only noticeable difference is his beard, which has grown longer and shaggier over the years. But, his music has stayed the same since his first album, “The Creek Drank the Cradle,” was released in 2002.

The album’s first song, “Claim Your Ghost,” is simple yet melodic. His pairs his feather light harmony with simple guitar and piano accompaniment, and it reminds me of how entertaining something so simple can be.

It’s always a treat to hear artists like Beam put out music that shows off raw vocal and acoustic talent. It gives the songs a more vulnerable tone, and gives listeners something new to discover.

While his tracks seem basic, Beam hides deep seated lyrics behind his quiet melodies.

Beam gives his listeners a choice — are his tracks background music or hidden poetry? “Bitter Truth” sounds like nothing more than Beam’s signature acoustic sound until I realize that, through his lyrics, he’s reflecting on a negative time he may have experienced, like a form of catharsis, the way any songwriter would.

Beam’s talent echoes a more serious James Taylor and a more melodic Neil Young. Both, “Call it Dreaming” and “Summer Clouds” are light-hearted yet nostalgic, like Young’s “Harvest Moon,” or Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind.”

While folk music isn’t my favorite genre, I like how “Beast Epic” infuses a little bit of acoustic rock to give each set some energy. My favorite track on the album, “Call it Dreaming,” is a perfect example of Beam taking folk to a more modern level. It starts off with his usual guitar intro, but his vocals grow clearer and more optimistic throughout the song.

Beam does a great job of giving folk a gentle twist, and I admire the fact that his style has been consistent throughout his musical career.

The album’s acoustic sound is a haven amidst a musical world of fickle artists and heavy electronic beats.

His album is a breath of fresh air for those looking to experience some softer and more alternative music.

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