(3 out of 5)
KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN is the Iron & Wine album that Sam Beam has been on the verge of making for some time now. Since first getting people’s attention in 2002 with his homespun, near-demo acoustic tracks, his sonic palette has expanded incrementally – glacially, even – to include more instrumentation, more intricate arrangements, and even hints of soft-spoken grandiosity. But nearly a decade after the first Iron and Wine album wowed listeners with its small-scale subtlety, Beam is definitively putting to rest the idea that he’s only capable of making quiet front-porch music. KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN is painted in broad and blunt strokes, with arrangements that occasionally run up to the line of soft-rock mushiness – the polished saxophone on “Me and Lazarus” and the earnest, woo-hoo harmonizing on “Glad Man Singing,” for example. In fact, although there are a few moments of stunning intrigue here – the dynamic and epic “Walking Far From Home,” the wah-flecked, staccato weirdness of “Rabbit Will Run” (which is great until the flute settles in for the ride) — for the most part, KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN finds Beam weighing his songs down unnecessarily. It’s telling that the album’s most boring track – the simple piano-guitar-voice storytelling of “Godless Brother In Love” – is also its most touching, for it proves that Beam hasn’t lost his core gifts, it’s just that he’s decided to bury them amid muddled and inappropriate sweeteners.