Iron & Wine, Walking Far From Home

Iron & Wine, Walking Far From Home

Wait, wait…who am I listening to, again? I’d heard rumors of a stylistic shift happening in the Iron & Wine camp, with frontman/songwriter Sam Beam moving away from his trademark downhome, low-key folk, but looking back, I honestly had no idea what I was in for.

So now I’ve got a hold of the Walking Far From Home Record Store Day single, featuring the lead track from next year’s Kiss Each Other Clean full-length, and I’m sitting here, dumbstruck. Because this is about as far as you can get from the fragile, somber-yet-sweet Our Endless Numbered Days or The Creek Drank the Cradle.

The change is obvious from the first second of the title track; it’s strange, mesmerizing, heavily electronicized pop that’s more reminiscent of Imogen Heap than it is of, say, “Sodom, South Georgia,” and that sound you hear is probably your jaw hitting the table as you listen for the first time. As put off as I initially was, however, I have to admit: it’s pretty damn cool.

It’s nice to hear the confidence and solidity now in Sam Beam’s voice, with Beam no longer willing to sit back and whisper close to the mic — “Walking” has the resounding, triumphant feel of a testimony in church, a feel further emphasized by the gorgeously sweeping choir vocals in the background. At the same time, there’s a hypnotic, serene thing going on that makes me think — in a good way — of Fleet Foxes, and I freaking love those overfuzzed, off-in-the-distance guitars. Think an angelic-voiced Afghan Whigs circa Gentlemen, and you might be close.

Then there’s “Summer in Savannah,” which rides a weirdly African-sounding rhythm as it tumbles and bumps along, making me think, somehow, of Sting’s early solo efforts. Oh, and I can’t forget the bebop sax that comes blasting in two-thirds of the way through. But even then, beneath the tribal-ish rhythms and Beam’s warm muttering, there’s a familiar-sounding picture of life in Iron & Wine’s own possibly-real, possibly-stylized version of the South, with Beam declaring, “Summer in Savannah takes a measure of faith,” with conviction enough that you have to agree.

Even further down the rabbit hole, there’s “Biting Your Tail,” which is funky and head-nodding, with squelching, Bernie Worrell-esque synths, electro-pop beats, and sing-song-y, summer-day vocals that come off like (I know, I know, but trust me on this) 311’s more mellow, sunstroked moments. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard from Beam ’til now, or even ever imagined he might come up with.

But y’know what? By the end, it’s feeling less and less important to somehow place Walking Far From Home in the context of the overall Iron & Wine canon. Sure, it’s different, but after several listens I’m convinced that this isn’t Beam taking leave of his senses, just stepping sideways and revealing a different part of himself. And it’s well worth hearing.

(4AD Records -- 17-19 Alma Road, London, SW18 1AA ENGLAND; http://www.4ad.com/; Warner Bros. Records -- http://www.warnerbrosrecords.com/; Iron & Wine -- http://www.ironandwine.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Monday, December 6th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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2 Responses to “Iron & Wine, Walking Far From Home

  1. A Nonimus on December 7th, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    I agree it’s great. But I’m surprised that all the comments and reviews it’s been getting seem so surprised by the musical direction. You’d think that people had only listened to Creek and OEND. If you think about it, with almost every release he’s expanded his musical palette and gone in different directions: Woman King, Shepherd’s Dog (great album), some of the later stuff on Around the Well all have more in common with this new stuff that the stripped down acoustic guitar that people insist on pigeonholing him into.

  2. Jeremy Hart on December 7th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    True, the later stuff does bear more of a resemblance to the new, but I still think it’s a far cry from _Walking_ — there was still at least a folk-country underpinning to it, even on _Around the Well_. This seems like a big step beyond, to me. But hey, that’s just me. :)

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