For an artist who’s gone from indie-pop unknown to the genre’s homecoming king, it seems only logical that Sam Beam, founder and sole member of the Floridian folk moniker Iron & Wine, should stick to his guns. But the trend of late seems to adapt for even wider fame and prestige. And so comes a change in an artist’s sound – mo’ money, mo’ problems, right?
When Modest Mouse hit the charts with Good News for People Who Love Bad News, it strayed from its original druggy-freakout fan base. And when people started to give a damn about The Streets, a British rap/speak storyteller, the group traded its grimy, under-produced sound for high-gloss keyboards and production.
But not Beam. With his skyrocketing record sales and “Garden State” following, he continued crafting the same feathery, slow-blooming folk compositions. Yet with the release of his latest album, The Shepherd’s Dog, it’s off-putting to sludge through the same thick tracks of plodding bass lines, airy croons and scattershot banjo.
As if to continue his lengthy trip across the country while attempting to lullaby everyone to sleep, The Shepherd’s Dog is sloth-like and monotonous. “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” is a fluttering collection of light percussion and phasing melodies. Its intermittent ambiance is interspersed with finely plucked guitars and Beam’s signature raspy, airy vocals. Similarly, “Resurrection Fern” falls distinctly into the canon of Iron & Wine’s earlier work: down-home sentimental lyrics carelessly strewn over minimalist instrumentation.
Even with the similarities, Beam has slightly tweaked his sound. When the opener “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car” kicks into its up-tempo gear, it seems as if Beam has finally found a way out of his begrudgingly slow songwriting and into more ambitious territory. Unfortunately, “Pagan Angel” and cuts like “Lovesong of the Buzzard” and “The Devil Never Sleeps” are few and far between.
He can’t entirely be blamed for these deviations into faster-paced tracks. Beam has proven time and time that he otherwise excels. He won’t abandon the mold of his earlier work because it’s what he’s best at. The record’s preeminent song, “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” is a delicate piece, leaning on lofty vocal melodies and subtle accordion.
If The Shepherd’s Dog proves anything, it’s that Beam’s musical progression is linear rather than cyclical – but for a reason. Artists rarely realize their stride so fully. Iron & Wine has shown on each mundane release it knows exactly what to do. Can it really be spontaneous if Beam meant to do it? Socraticly mundane, perhaps, but in any case The Shepherd’s Dog is exactly what you’d expect, whether that’s a good thing or not.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Iron & Wine
The Sheheprd’s Dog