Upon first listening to Kiss Each Other Clean – the fourth full-length record from Sam Beam, the mastermind behind Iron & Wine – claims that it was inspired by memories of radio tunes from the 60s and 70s are immediately justified.
The record’s mellow first track, ‘Walking Far From Home’, opens with the sounds of air traffic, along with xylophones, creating the perfect distancing backdrop to a Homeric catalogue of observations.
His use of instrumentation throughout is inspired. Edgy and restless ‘Monkeys Uptown’ is greatly enhanced by the synthesised space-age jazz-funk (it works, I promise you) that runs through it. The Spanish guitar in ‘Godless Brother In Love’ drops its notes into the song in such a honeyed fashion that it sounds almost harp-like.
Yet nowhere does this cunning use of instruments surface more than in ‘Rabbit Will Run’, a pacey track, lyrics filled with the concept of the natural instinct to run and of individual approaches to escape. The music mirrors this with bizarre, birdlike whistling, distorted guitar and, above all, something remarkably close to the Lion King soundtrack running throughout.
Although certain songs do indeed resemble the airwave-friendly pop of bygone decades, Beam’s ability to paint pictures with words adds layers to the work, with intriguing lines such as “When the arrogant goddess of love came to steal my shoes…” leading into the twisting narrative of vivid mini-stories. Often a sinister tone underpins seemingly breezy tracks, such as ‘Tree By The River’ where teenage nostalgia is juxtaposed with grotesque images of teeth and bones.
Religious references, another expected feature in Beam’s work, are also present in this new LP, with the persistence of prayer and its forms as a minor feature in ‘Rabbit Will Run’. ‘Me And Lazarus’, religious references in its very title, sounds almost like a gospel song with its groovy rhythm and use of saxophone.
The one slight disappointment is closer ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me’. Like the first track, it is a catalogue of contrasting pairs, “the sinner and the saint” and “the glory and the guilt”, which drags on interminably until fading under a musical cacophony.
Nevertheless, from its intricate narratives right the way through to the Quentin Blake-esque peacocks littered on the album artwork this album is a weird and wonderful delight.