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Review: Iron and Wine, ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’

SPIN Rating: 9 of 10
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Label: Warner Bros.

Iron and Wine’s last album, 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, seemed to complete singer-guitarist Sam Beam’s journey from spare, black-and-white acoustic sketch artist to full-color aural panoramist. But Kiss Each Other Clean explodes his palette even further. Just look at that cover art — Beam rendered in neon-psychedelic lines, surrounded by peacocks — it’s advance visual notice of a sonic sea change.

And Kiss delivers plenty of unexpected layers, employed judiciously in service of Beam’s usual ruminative ideas about good and evil, love and death: “Me and Lazarus” dribbles squeaky synths atop his increasingly sure voice before dropping in a tasteful sax. That sax gets decidedly more skronky on “Big Burned Hand,” which rides a ’70s groove into…a DJ scratching? From the guy who made his name whispering?

The wheat-colored troubadour hasn’t disappeared completely, but even the acoustic-rooted tracks are flecked with new hues. “Half Moon” invites doo-wop ladies to liven up the background, while the lonesome “Godless Brother in Love” offers Beam’s most expressive, engaging vocal performance yet, with a high cooing assist from Doveman’s Thomas Bartlett. Then there are the beautifully detailed bookends — delicately simmering, gospel-tinged “Walking Far From Home” and funky yet pensive epic “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me.” By opening and closing the album, they artfully combine Iron and Wine’s past and present.