Sam Beam doesn't seem worried about much. And in fact, he doesn't need to be. Iron and Wine has been a force to be reckoned with in the cryptic indie world for a decade now, and that's not likely to change. Beam's last album, 2010's Kiss Each other Clean marked the beginning of Iron and Wine's evolution. With random, yet tasteful licks on the xylophone and electric guitar sneaks (see "Monkeys Uptown"), it left us wondering where the man lying in the patch of green grass from Our Endless Numbered Days had gone. Iron and Wine's fifth studio album, Ghost on Ghost seeps with joyous abstraction and flourishes in a brassy heaven, and sounds like a completely other side of Sam Beam.
What makes this album so enjoyable is how alluring it is: Beam has strayed away from the darker, saddening themes and has allowed the sun in, singing about the simplicity of love. It sounds cliche, but Ghost on Ghost might have been the album Beam needed to shed his armor. Not that Our Endless Numbered Days and The Shephard's Dog were by any means too soft, but this album marks a distinct growth from his past. There's a captive, unnamed charm threaded into each track.
With the release of the single "Lover's Revolution", listeners could not clearly foresee the fate of Iron and Wine's fifth effort. But the most enticing aspect of this album is how easily it holds your attention as you drift through all 12 tracks. There are bursts of horns, electric pianos, and familiar slips of acoustic guitars that help the songs remain on the ground. There are also quite a few surprises - pleasant surprises, that perhaps a Sam Beam 10 years ago could not have handled.
The opening track, "Caught in the Briars" posses a neat juxtaposition of eerie and delight, setting the stage for Ghost on Ghost's sporadic change from the past and from within. Towards the end of the song, the crashing symbols and racing piano get a little Sgt. Pepper's on us, but who's to complain about that level of expressiveness and nostalgia?
"Joy" gives you a glimpse of Iron and Wine's accessibility to reflect upon something much brighter than grey. Beam cries "Deep inside the heart of this troubled man / There's an itty bitty boy tugging hard at your hand," reflecting the album's vulnerability. Of course, the whole album is packed with the general Iron and Wine slithers conceding the government, California, Mother Mary, etc., but the overall shift from folky acoustics to brass-driven, indie inflicted jazz holds true with every track.
Iron and Wine's departure from the melancholic fields of gentle acoustics into jovial brass melodies may leave some stubborn fans refusing to embrace the new Iron and Wine. These less haunting, and evermore cryptic sounds only add to the musical magnetism. This is the type of transformation some artists must take them to propel them into their next realm of sound.
Ghost on Ghost is out tomorrow (4/16) via Nonesuch.