Three years ago, Norway’s Kings of Convenience released an album titled Quiet is the New Loud — a seemingly ironic statement that was quoted time and time again by American and European music press alike. But despite sounding cheeky, it was a fitting description for the Norse duo. And now, three years later, it’s the first phrase that comes to mind when listening to Iron and Wine’s sophomore album, Our Endless Numbered Days.
Iron and Wine, better known as Floridian Sam Beam, scarcely changes tempo, volume or tone. But he’ll knock you flat, all the same. Days marks the first time Beam has actually recorded in a proper studio. But the only noticeable difference between this album and his debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle is an absence of analog hiss. There aren’t any effects added to dress up Beam’s rustic folk sound, nor has Beam’s style been augmented by a highly paid producer.
Rather, what you get on Our Endless Numbered Days is twelve more Beam originals, touched up with very subtle ornamentation — his sister Sara’s vocal harmonies, live drums on the bluesy “Free Until They Cut Me Down,” pedal steel on “Sunset Soon Forgotten.” Beam throws few curveballs and stays true to the musical identity he made on his debut.
What does set Iron and Wine apart from other indie-folksters like Will Oldham and Songs:Ohia is just how comforting a listen he is. From the gently plucked opening riff of “On Your Wings” to Beam’s gently soothing baritone in “Naked As We Came,” Our Endless Numbered Days is a warm collection of songs that always feel like home. Even the album’s cover is inviting — depicting a cartoon drawing of the bearded singer, laying peacefully on a patch of grass.
Beam may not be revolutionizing the face of music. In fact, he’s reverting to simpler, more familiar forms of authentic American folk music. But Iron and Wine’s music is so beautiful and mesmerizing that it’s hard to find fault with it. Some may read the liner notes and sing along to every verse. Others may see it as good background music for brewing tea, but whatever the occasion, it’s good listening, and if you allow it, it’ll enrapture you.
It’s doubtful that Beam will change course anytime in the near future. But we’re all better off for it, for even those of us that prefer the most loud, obnoxious music out there need to take a break from the dissonant and listen to something pretty for a change.
Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
Bonnie Prince Billy – Master and Everyone
Neil Halstead – Sleeping on Roads