Sam Beam’s latest album under the Iron & Wine moniker is named after an allegorical narrative featuring animal characters with human characteristics and emotions. Its title, ‘Beast Epic’ brings to mind the literature of Geoffrey Chaucer and George Orwell. The material itself, however, is far less conceptual but despite the red herring of its title, the result is one of his most minimal, tasteful and consistent efforts in a decade.
From the hushed opening notes and gentle volume swells of ‘Claim Your Ghost’, it’s clear this marks a return to Beam’s original, rootsy folk sound. This'll certainly please fans who found the experimentation on 2011’s ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ and its follow-up ‘Ghost on Ghost’ inauthentic or somewhat misguided. The stripped-back approach makes for a beautifully soothing listen, with Beam’s smooth-as-honey vocals sounding better than ever.
‘Bitter Truth’, which contains his most wistful lines on the record: “Some call it talking blues / Some call it bitter truth / Some call it getting even in a song”, is three minutes of spare, heavenly folk. Lead single ‘Call It Dreaming’ is equally as lovely, showcasing a warmth that was so noticeably absent from his recent releases. Meanwhile, cuts like ‘Song in Stone’ and ‘Right For Sky’ will provide a fittingly melancholic soundtrack for the remainder of many people’s summer.
In terms of a critique, it is difficult and perhaps a little cruel to draw comparisons to his earlier work, especially a back catalogue so rich and well respected, but the album’s sounds and atmosphere ultimately make it impossible to avoid. This doesn’t make Beam’s latest a bad LP by any stretch. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and while ‘Beast Epic’ doesn’t quite match the strength of those records, it still remains his most pleasing work since 2007’s ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’.
Words: Luke Winstanley
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