It's hard to talk about Sam Beam's new LP without mentioning the whole thing about the backing band being there. It's kinda unavoidable, since the man's music has been so minimal and simple in the past. Beam himself has even spoken out about his musical progression, saying he couldn't get any simpler than an album like Creek Drank the Cradle, so complexity was the only way to go from there. It certainly reflects how he took a full bodied lush guitar sound on Shepherd's Dog almost four years ago. With Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam takes his musical complexity a step even further.
As it opens with "Walking Far From Home", the mood is instantly more vibrant and accessible than anything he's done before with Iron and Wine. It's nearly a gospel song transcribed for the 21st century hipster. "Big Burned Home" sounds like a jam band with its thumping bass and smooth jazz sax. "Godless Brother in Love" and "Glad Man Singing" could've been released by Sufjan sometime five years ago. "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me", the album's opus and finale, is perhaps the most surprising change of pace for Beam and co. Sounding like a psychedelic jam session off something from last year's All the Delighted People, it builds and builds to actually end up...no where, which was somewhat of a revelation for me. Beam normally ends his albums with great songs (think "Muddy Hymnal" and "Flightless Bird, American Mouth"), but this ending feels comparatively incomplete. That could even be said about most of the album in retrospect. Many times, where I've wanted songs to stretch out and venture somewhere new with a full band backing him, the ideas simply float around at times and become half hearted experiments.
This album feels entirely inspired and deserved, but it's lacking in the heart and personality of his earlier albums. It's an admirable attempt, one that many fans will undoubtedly enjoy. But this is hardly Iron and Wine in any way, which is sad. It might be a great blueprint for his future, but right now, it's somewhat disappointing.