Between his pop-leaning 2011 hit Kiss Each Other Clean and the full-band fusion of 2013's Ghost on Ghost, Sam Beam has spent the better part of the past decade trying his best to resist the trappings of the self-serious folkie. For his last two releases, he's teamed up with Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) for a set of unsuspecting covers and recorded a collection of collaborative duets with Jesca Hoop in which the singer-songwriter stripped himself, for the first time in his career, of his Iron & Wine moniker. For a brief moment, he just wanted to be Sam.
On Beast Epic, his first proper Iron & Wine album in four years, the 43-year-old Beam seems more at peace, musically and otherwise, than he's been in years. Over gentle, rich acoustic arrangements, he's back to singing soft-spoken biblical musings and breezy odes to the trees, clouds and rivers. On songs like "Right for Sky" and "Summer Clouds," Beam gracefully reassumes the mantle of tender-hearted romantic, delivering one knockout one-liner after the other. "You raised your glass," he nearly whispers on the latter, "and the scars fell off my heart."
set of mostly down-tempo ballads provide space for Beam to display his
masterful melodic phrasing on songs like "Our Light Miles" and "Last
Night." Other songs, meanwhile, like the lead-single "Call It Dreaming" and "About a Bruise," are much-needed upbeat
counterweights that show how Beam can now draw just as much emotion out of
the densely orchestrated, fluid folk-pop of his backing band. On Beast Epic,
Iron & Wine has rediscovered the power and beauty in scaling back when it
serves the song, and the result is Beam's most dynamic and convincing record in