The ongoing journey of Sam Beam from bedroom mystic to ringleader of a slick stadium indie rock band is completed on 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean. While the previous Iron & Wine album, The Shepherd's Dog, was also very produced and pro-sounding, this album is huge. Beam, a cast of many, and producer Brian Deck have embellished the songs with a ton of studio tricks, a wide variety of instruments from flute to squelchy old synths, and a tightly arranged, loosely flowing feel that anyone who was initially enraptured by Beam’s early recordings might be hard-pressed to recognize. (Though Beam’s voice is still as haunting and intimate as ever for the most part. As is his beard.) Once you accept that I&W are now as established as a “real” band on par with Wilco or the Flaming Lips, some questions arise. Are they still any good? Can Beam still capture a heart with a tender melody and an aching vocal despite all the tricks and sax solos? Does the musicianship on display overpower the songs? Will Beam survive in the big leagues? Most of these questions were answered in the affirmative on the last album; they are reaffirmed here. Beam still writes and sings in a voice that could penetrate even the most syrupy backing -- nothing will likely ever change that. His lyrics have the same broken and bruised poetry they’ve always had, only now they are surrounded by haunting and inventive arrangements that are even more intricate and interesting than on The Shepherd's Dog. This time, Beam and company bring in soft rock smoothness, dub reggae textures, and instruments that haven’t really been featured on previous records. The vintage synths in particular deserve mention; whether they are bubbling like mad on “Monkeys Uptown” or getting Stevie Wonder-funky on “Big Burned Hand,” they give the otherwise very organic-sounding arrangements a welcome cheesy kick. Other aspects that deserve praise are Sarah Simpson’s sweetly sung backing vocals and Deck’s production. He layers instruments and mixes sound like he’s baking a giant cake, giving the songs depth and a widescreen scope in the process. Beam couldn’t have picked a better person for the job of blowing his music up to the large-scale work of beauty it has become. If you’ve been on board since the beginning, you have to marvel at the perfectly timed and logical way the music has progressed. No one could ever accuse Beam of selling out his art, only growing up and building it up. Kiss Each Other Clean is the result of years of growth and change, and though that sounds incredibly boring, it’s also a record full of roiling emotion, tender wit, and deeply felt melodic beauty. In other words, a standard issue Iron & Wine record.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra