FIRST IMPRESSION: Iron & Wine – “Walking Far From Home”/”Biting Your Tail”

by mikeflanagan1

The first single to introduce Iron & Wine‘s upcoming album, Kiss Each Other Clean, does exactly what a well-timed lead single is commissioned to do: it reminds you just how damn good Iron & Wine is. It reminds you how much you couldn’t wait for the band’s next release before Sam Beam all but fell off the flat plane of the Earth about two years ago. 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog was a reinvention for beam, a venture into the realm of the full band, where Beam’s leafy whisper complimented the band’s unfettered sonic scape, and not the other way around. Around The Well provided a subtle reminder in 2009, but even a whole double-LP’s worth of unreleased material was not enough to quell the anticipation for Beam’s next re-imagination of Iron & Wine.

“Walking Far From Home” turns the Shepherd’s Dog-era form inside-out without sacrificing any of the values Beam has transferred throughout his evolution as a musician and songwriter. He is still a master of melody, quarterbacking his words around pleasantly calculable chord changes to baffle listers who wonder why no one else has thought of something so poignant in the 60-some-odd-year history of rock’n’roll songwriting. The song would work well as a classic Beam-and-guitar bonfire singalong, but it boasts exquisitely superfluous piano and vocal frills where a simple rest would seem to do. The subtleties of the ethereal keys turn on a dime into an overbearing wall of synth that is as tactful as it is confounding. This is a new Iron & Wine, in ways more refined and in other ways much wilder than the previous chapter in Beam’s illustrious career.

And if you’re not convinced, take even a quick brush at the accompanying single “Biting Your Tail”, where Beam’s vocals are the only sound recognizable in nature. The song is almost entirely electronic, which is about as colossal a step outside Iron & Wine’s comfort zone as Beam could have taken. Like “Walking Far From Home,” the melody and chord progression might have fared well as an acoustic number, but several listens should reveal that they breath far better in the rainforest of distorted electronic bells Iron & Wine built around them.

I would be very interested to hear Beam’s demos of these songs…perhaps we’ll see an unofficial release in lieu of the “Fall 2007” demos from The Shepherd’s Dog sessions?

Kiss Each Other Clean comes out January 25th on Warner Bros.