Texas-based singer-songwriter type Iron & Wine, aka Samuel Beam, is known for his melodic, country-tinged Americana style. Kiss Each Other Clean is his fourth release under this moniker, and first for a major label, and continues the journey from lo-fi experimentalist to something more mainstream. The sound on this album is deeper, more textural, and by extension, somehow more affecting than previous works.
There's a kind of hipster hokey spiritualism about this album, and Iron & Wine in general that can be cloying, but if you just go with it, it can also be strangely rewarding. From the album cover, a technicolour line drawing of the artist waist-deep in a river with peacocks milling around behind, down through every track, there is an overriding theme of closeness to nature.
Glad Man Singing is a real star turn, but the standout tracks on Kiss Each Other Clean also tend to be the longest ones, as the album's repetitive rhythms get more time to lodge deep in the listener's mind. Rabbit Will Run might be too kooky for some, but there's something about the way Beam delivers his nursery rhyme lyrics that elevates them from Beatrix Potter to something more...exalted.
Then there's closing track Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me, which despite being 7 minutes in length, is not following in the tradition of the dreary, overlong last-track snoozefest. Instead it picks the listener up, smacks him around the ears with sweeping and soaring crescendos of crashing keys, and drops him back into real-life with perhaps a greater appreciation of the wonders that even this mundane world can offer.
As I write I'm convincing myself of the quality of this album, but I do have some reservations. The vocals on one or two tracks sound tinny, and over-compressed, and the occasional use of synths and saxophone flourishes sometimes seems tacked-on as an afterthought.
And what about all that mother-earth spirituality stuff? You have to be willing to go along with it for this album to really work. But ultimately, if you do, it really does.
Final Score: 78%