Winter Guide: Iron & Wine Hop on Pop

Your fake name is good enough for him--Sam Beam chats about his new album

Winter Guide: Iron & Wine Hop on Pop

As befits a guy whose songs have never lacked for juicy visual metaphors, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine describes the difference between his previous album and his new one this way: “I definitely had a lot of ideas I was itching to try on The Shepherd’s Dog,” he says of that 2007 effort, which dramatically expanded their acoustic indie-folk sound with fuzzy electric guitars and tricky West African rhythms. “And I did for this one, too. But last time, it was like I spread all those ideas out on a table—like, ‘Here they are!’—where on this one, they’re all bunched up in my hand in the shape of a fist.”

“Beam doesn’t mean that Kiss Each Other Clean, due out January 25, presents a newly aggro Iron & Wine. Indeed, even with its various sonic extremities—check out the nasty funk groove in “Big Burned Hand” or the driving blues licks peppered throughout “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me”—this is deeply lovely stuff, less knuckle sandwich than toasted Brie on baguette. Rather, the 36-year-old bandleader is referring to what he considers the new disc’s tighter focus, the way it pursues its goals with a newly extroverted energy. “There’s a hop to it,” he says. “It feels a bit more pop-oriented to me.”

Beam’s principal collaborator on Kiss Each Other Clean was producer Brian Deck, who also helmed The Shepherd’s Dog and 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days. “I’ve always liked the idea of having someone to grow and develop with, to keep in mind what we’ve done and where we’re going,” Beam says, adding with a laugh, “It worked for George Martin and the Beatles, right?”

Deck cites “Fleetwood Mac and middle-period Elton John” as having influenced the album’s lived-in arrangements. (“ ‘Middle period’ being the 1970s,” the producer clarifies. “I guess that’s early Elton John to most people, but I’m old.”) Working at both Deck’s studio in Chicago and at Beam’s home outside Austin—where the singer resides with his wife and five daughters—the two musicians were determined, says Deck, to resist “deconstructing” certain pop-song elements as they had in the past. “We wanted to make things more legible.” One example of what he’s talking about: a killer sax solo in “Me and Lazarus” by Stuart Bogie of New York’s Antibalas. “Are you gonna do anything Lou Reed didn’t do in 1968 or Marilyn Manson didn’t do a few years ago?” Deck asks rhetorically. “I doubt it. But the thing you can still do is make fucking rad musical decisions and just go with them.”

Beam’s new dedication to legibility comes at a fortuitous time, as Kiss Each Other Clean will be the first Iron & Wine record to arrive on a major label—specifically, Warner Bros. Records. Given that he already plays to sizable crowds and has placed songs in films like Garden State and a commercial for M&Ms, Beam admits he’s unsure what exactly Warner Bros. can do for Iron & Wine at this point in his career. “But change is good,” he says. “I like new scenarios, and we’ve been happy with them so far. We’ll just see where this goes.”

According to Deck, where it goes definitely won’t be TMZ. “Sam doesn’t care about celebrity at all,” the producer says. “He’s not gonna show his tits at a Yankees game to get people to pay attention to him. I think he just wants his music to reach as many people as possible. I mean, doesn’t everybody?”

Iron & Wine, Radio City Music Hall, January 29, radiocity.com

Winter Music Listings

Elizabeth Mitchell
December 4
If you weren’t aware that this member of New York’s great indie-folk outfit Ida is spending much of her time these days doing music for kids, perhaps this show’s 11 a.m. curtain will clue you in. Like They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes, Mitchell declines to treat her listeners like vertically challenged morons; I’d happily play her latest, this year’s lovely Sunny Day, even without my son in the room. That said, Mitchell knows (and respects) young minds; she’s not one of these kiddie acts more interested in impressing you than in keeping her audience engaged. Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, symphonyspace.org

Hall & Oates
December 5
The influential pop-soul duo have been receiving props of late from a wide range of fresh-faced hipsters, including Chromeo, Travie McCoy, and the Bird and the Bee, who earlier this year released an album of affectionate Hall & Oates covers called Interpreting the Masters. But Daryl and John haven’t receded into rocker-emeritus status yet: Tonight, they bring their “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” tour to the Beacon for an evening of creamy vocal harmonies and tart romantic analysis. Only thing: Mr. Hall’s the one with the mustache now—aim those undergarments appropriately, ladies. Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway, beacontheatre.com

Rammstein
December 11
These Berlin-based industrial-metal wackos haven’t played the United States since 2001, and this MSG date will be their only one this year. So expect an onstage spectacle even more awesomely overblown than Rammstein’s flame-licking norm. The band’s most recent album, Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, came out last year, preceded by a hilariously straightforward lead single entitled “Pussy”; perhaps we’ll be treated to clips from the tune’s Jonas Åkerlund–directed hard-porn video tonight. Either way, prepare to be both offended and exhilarated. With Combichrist. Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, thegarden.com

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