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Back to the roots with Iron and Wine’s “Beast Epic”

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The sound of Iron and Wine takes me back eight years to hot summer afternoons in my sister’s dusty Volkswagen. She used to play Iron and Wine’s 2004 album “Our Endless Numbered Days” when she drove me to the community pool. The soft vocals of front man Sam Beam always lulled me to sleep. In Iron and Wine’s new album, “Beast Epic,” those vocals are brought to the forefront, and Beam truly shines as a vocalist and songwriter.

The sorrowful simple tune of  “Claim Your Ghost” gently eases you into the rest of the album. From there, the album grows into a warm mix of instrumentals and delicate melodies. The soft percussion makes the next song, “Bitter Truth” much more lighthearted in comparison. Both songs feature simplistic melodies and quiet acoustic chords, but Beam manipulates simple instrumentals to set a unique tone to each song.

Beam’s skill with instrumentals is demonstrated throughout the album. “Thomas County Law” and “About a Bruise,” which pay homage to Beam’s southern roots, feature twangy and rhythmic guitar chords. The smooth harmonies of cellos and violins intertwined in “Our Light Miles” sharply contrasts the staccato plucks “Last Night.”

Another powerful element of the album is the pure emotion in each song. Beam sings about heartbreak, anxiety, nostalgia, loss, and more. From sorrowfully belting out mantras in “Claim Your Ghost” to soaring over beautifully flowing harmonies of “Right for the Sky,” Beam embodies the essence of each song with his enchanting and delicate voice.

To be honest, when I first listened to this album, I thought each song sounded exactly the same; I could barely tell when one ended and the next began. I was initially disappointed by the lack of variety, but after listening to it again, I realized how unique each song is. The variety in this album is extremely subtle, and the limited range of instrumentation, with the acoustic guitar and occasional strings, can sound repetitive and make it seem like the same song on repeat.
“Beast Epic” is not for everyone. If you’re looking for a dynamic and adventurous album with obvious variety, then I would not recommend this album. But for those looking for a more nuanced and relaxed sound, then this is the album for you. Overall, it is Beam’s attention to detail and outstanding vocals that makes “Beast Epic” a mesmerizing and quietly powerful success.

Written by Natalie Jiang, Opinion editor

Photo courtesy of ironandwine.com


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