I, like many people, did not expect half of Kiss Each Other Clean. Being new to Iron & Wine, I perceived the sound of the outfit by looking at its auteur, Sam Beam, and anyone who has seen the guy cannot blame me for thinking that his newest album would be loaded to the brim with folk-tastic audio intimacy. To my credit, like I mentioned, half of Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam’s first album in four years, is just that; finger-picked rambles sung by a surprisingly spry bearded man. The second half of Kiss Each Other Clean, however, is quite different, and is a clear sign of an artist desperate to branch out into different styles than the one he has been confined to for nearly a decade.
So, do the experiments work? Yes. There isn’t a track on Kiss Each Other Clean that I outright dislike. The new sounds range from the playfully indulgent (“Big Burned Hand”) to the keyboard-led ominous (“Rabbit Will Run”). Both new styles have their advantages, and I do not have a clear preference toward either. I will say, however, that I, overall, enjoyed the more traditional songs more than the experimental ones. I was surprised to discover this upon listening to Kiss Each Other Clean, because I tend to gravitate towards the risky, but there is a clear flaw in all the experimental songs of Kiss Each Other Clean that prohibits them from reaching a much higher enjoyment level than, “Oh that sounds kinda cool.” That flaw is that, for however much that initial melody hooks you in on a song like “Monkeys Uptown”, it’s hard to ignore upon closer inspection that the song’s just the repetition of a single melody over and over. Once you see that crucial flaw in half the songs on Kiss Each Other Clean, it’s hard to give the album the love that its ambition may deserve. And once the final track, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough”, stops abruptly to repeat a coda that builds with barely enough payoffs for seven minutes, you might just have had enough of it.
Without getting too deep into the details of the music, itself, Kiss Each Other Clean is still a very good album. The folkier songs are remarkably consistent, and the songs that manage to find a balance between the new production flourishes and that older sound are the album’s highlights (“Glad Man Singing”, “Godless Brother In Love”, “Me and Lazarus”). Hell, even when Beam goes balls out on “Big Burned Hand”, it’s good fun (and features a great profanity slip as a punch line at the song’s end). Kiss Each Other Clean has so much potential to be a game-changing album, but its clear kinks may have to relegate it to the title of “transitional record”. It’s a little overhyped, but may be worth your time.