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

Prince
December 14, 15, 17, 18, and 29
“Best described,” sayeth Prince, “as what we’ve all been waiting for,” the Purple One’s five-night tri-state stand is set to feature guest appearances by a host of grown-and-sexy MFs including Cassandra Wilson, Maceo Parker, Mint Condition, Sheila E., Esperanza Spalding, Sinbad, and Janelle Monáe, the last of whom Prince singled out as his favorite new artist at an Apollo Theater press conference announcing these shows. Even without those pals, “Welcome 2 America” (as Prince is calling the run) would be a must-see—provided he’s not in one of his hotel-jazz moods. Which is totally possible. Madison Square Garden (December 14, 15 & 17), 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, thegarden.com; Izod Center (December 18 & 29), East Rutherford, New Jersey, meadowlands.com

Weezer
December 17 and 18 Weezer have had an exceptionally busy year even by the standards of the young indie bands they’ve influenced: In September, they released their first album for Epitaph, then followed it up last month with a two-disc reissue of 1996’s Pinkerton and an odds-and-ends round-up called Death to False Metal. (Rather improbably, the latter includes a tortured-grunge cover of Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart.”) Now Rivers Cuomo and company are rounding out 2010 with the Memories Tour, playing Pinkerton and Weezer’s self-titled debut (a/k/a the Blue Album) in their entirety over back-to-back shows. Anyone else hoping for “I’m Your Daddy” in the encore? With Free Energy. Roseland Ballroom, 239 West 52nd Street, roselandballroom.com

Fantasia
December 27
The American Idol winner turned r&b star turned Broadway belter ran into trouble earlier this year when she was hospitalized following a suicide attempt in North Carolina. (Check out her post-incident Behind the Music for a rare instance of pop-star straight talk.) Fantasia appears to be faring better these days—she’s got an album, August’s solid Back to Me, to promote—but there’s no doubt she’ll tap back into her pain tonight. Six years after Idol launched her to stardom, she remains a performer most comfortable on the dark side. With Eric Benét and Kandi. Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway, beacontheatre.com

The Dismemberment Plan
January 29 and 30
On January 11, Seattle’s Barsuk Records is set to release a vinyl-only reissue of Emergency & I, the 1999 breakthrough by Washington’s Dismemberment Plan, and to mark the occasion the group are reuniting for a brief run of shows on the East Coast and in Chicago. Never an easy outfit to describe during their original run, the Plan bend no more readily to classification nearly a decade after their killer swan song, Change. Steely Dan with Fugazi’s rhythm section? Paul Rudd fronting Talking Heads? How about the best brainy-sadsack band from the age before LCD Soundsystem? Webster Hall, 125 East 10th Street, websterhall.com

Deerhoof
February 8
California’s Deerhoof will have taken a relatively epic two and a half years between studio discs by the time Deerhoof vs. Evil drops on January 25. (Between 2002 and 2008, the band released no fewer than six full-lengths, including the excellent Friend Opportunity, which drummer Greg Saunier has said was informed by Deerhoof’s travels as an opening act with Radiohead, Wilco, and the Roots.) Fortunately, Evil was worth the wait; no other indie act pivots as confidently between hard rock and soft pop. In “The Merry Barracks,” they even crib the fuzzy Morse-code guitar riff from “Spirit in the Sky.” Ridgewood Masonic Temple, 1054 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn

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