Friday, September 28, 2007

#21: Iron & Wine>The Shepherd's Dog>I shall not want

Artist : Iron & Wine
Album : The Shepherd's Dog (3rd Domestic LP)
Release : 09.25.07
Year Founded : 2002
Label Name : Sub Pop
Catalog # : 710
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Digipak
Members : Sam Beam, Sarah Beam, Jim Becker, Rob Burger, Joey Burns, Brian
Deck, EJ Holowicki, John Katke, Matt Lux, Patrick McKinney, Paul Niehaus
Runtime : 49:45
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Summer
iTunes Worthy Tracks : White Tooth Man, Lovesong of the Buzzard, Carousel, House by the Sea, Boy with a Coin
Sounds Like : Nick DrakePink Moon
Rating : A

Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog maintains the same emotional, thematic and artistic arc as his previous album, Our Endless Numbered Days. While it maintains — like Endless — a melancholic moodiness, it will not likely induce fits of weeping as did Sam Beam's shockingly stark introduction to the music world The Creek Drank the Cradle. The new album also continues the trend toward fuller, more complex arrangements and clearer, more inclusive production.

Still firmly at the epicenter though is Beam's whispery and warbly yet confident voice and his uncanny ability to twist his lachrymose words around the song's edges like tendrils around a fencepost. In short, his phrasing is flawless and adds even more gravity to the already leaden tales he tells.

"Lovesong of the Buzzard" is the first song that is perhaps surprising in the weight of its sound, as it is suffused with a summery lightness. The propulsive percussion and the boomy and bouncy addition of upright bass conjures Sam Prekop's solo work, which is interesting because the very next song, "Carousel," immediately brought to mind similar sounds from Archer Prewitt's seminal In the Sun. It is simple and focused and lonely and the effects applied to the vocal only increase the song's distance. And "House by the Sea" creates an immensely enjoyable swampland chorus of toads, crickets and cicadas by treating nearly everything, even the stringed instruments, as percussion.

The album's single, "Boy with a Coin," is unavoidable. It is The Shepherd's Dog's most haunting and delicately displayed piece. It is not only the album's best song, but one of Beam's best ever and certainly one of this year's best. Handclaps are so simple a device and yet so effective here as they march through the verse and do double-time through the "ooh" and "ahh" chorus. The guitar, with its curlicue pulls and deft slides, sounds like a cat trying to tip-toe through a nighttime stempede. It has perhaps the fewest words of all the songs, but there isn't a wasted phrase among them.

A boy with a coin he found in the weeds, with bullets and pages of trade magazines
Close to a car that flipped on the turn when god left the ground to circle the world
A girl with a bird she found in the snow, then flew up her gown and that's how she knows
That god made her eyes for crying at birth and then left the ground to circle the earth
A boy with a coin he crammed in his jeans, then, making a wish, he tossed in the sea
And walked to a town that all of us burned, when god left the ground to circle the world

No Iron & Wine album will ever be so startlingly intimate as The Creek Drank the Cradle. You just can't recapture the circumstances surrounding that album and how it came to be. But often that's exactly what Beam's most heart-wrenching songs are about — the inability to recapture or relive life's most precious moments — in a word, impermanence. The diversity of Beam's sound has certainly grown since the early days when he thought music might just be a nice hobby, but the feelings that his work evokes are as real as ever.

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