Ah, intimacy and a plucked banjo. Surely Sam Beam, aka
Iron & Wine, understands the value of a minimalist approach to acoustic folk-pop and the power contained therein, as he puts it to magnificent use on his sophomore disc. Our Endless Numbered Days
won't knock you off your seat with ribald lyrics or rambunctious riffs, but its confident, measured chords and precise tones will hold your attention long after they've grabbed it.
So hushed and quiet are the lyrics, the strumming, the faint percussion on much of the album that it's nearly impossible to fully appreciate in passing. Sorry, armchair A&R reps: Iron & Wine will demand just a bit more of your time. Not that their songs are complex, but their dire and dusky mood requires a bit more attention from the casual listener. The album caters to the sunsets and sunrises, sometimes indistinguishably. A little too upbeat to ever sink into the grey, songs like "Fever Dream" and "Love and Some Verses" seem handmade for twilight while the deceptively mature "Naked as We Came" seems fit for early risers.
Iron & Wine don't plead their case, but demonstrate it simply and without fanfare. It isn't until track nine that Beam feels loose enough to high-step through the dewdrops on "Free Until They Cut Me Down". I'm sure he could have sped things up earlier, but it's just not his style. That, to me, is the mark of confidence in an artist -- when they trust themselves enough to mystify you without resorting to the crutch of tempo until they're good and ready. Two songs later, he's roiling through the sweaty complexities of a hymn on the magnificent "Sodom, South Georgia". Contrary to popular wisdom, Beam finds it practical to backload his disc with fine material, as both "Sodom" and the gentle closer, "Passing Afternoon", prove.
It's hard to get too worked up about singer-songwriters when they come as low-key as Iron & Wine. I almost get the impression that Sam Beam would think I was making too much fuss if I did. While Our Endless Numbered Days doesn't have the emotional resonance of a Jeff Buckley or Townes Van Zandt album, it's not too far off the beaten path. Given a few years to ferment, I suspect Iron & Wine will be mentioned in ever more rarefied company.