“Beast Epic” finds Iron and Wine returning with a cacophony of folk sounds and stories. The album begins with a song that seems to vibrate with its own longing – “Claim Your Ghost.” As Sam Beam cries out “killers let go,” we find ourselves baptized in suffering. But what really drives in the message is the potent simplicity of the music. “Beast Epic” finds a poignant place in between Iron and Wine’s stripped-down roots and growing musical experimentation. The results are beautiful.
Iron and Wine, in a tasteful move, blends their early sound with the new, finding an inspired world of songs along the way. There’s an enlightened movement to “Beast Epic,” floating into jazz-inspired rhythms at times that faintly reminisce late 60s folk music. And the immediacy and natural feeling to the sound isn’t manufactured – Beam and his band recorded most of the album live in Wilco’s Loft studio in Chicago, striking a comfortable balance between simplicity and experimentation.
“Last Night,” a melancholy yet upbeat song about a fading relationship, shines with chamber strings behind it. Beam’s voice trembles gently above a fascinating arrangement that finds violins rising and tumbling behind him. The emotive structure of the song works wonderfully, allowing for a space to grow between Beam’s lyrics and the music, a space where the sadness is both beautiful and heart-wrenchingly tragic:
“As they’re giving the wind all it wants
Turn after turn till we’re lost
And there’s what we believe in the limbs of hometown trees
When we let go, the disappearance
It’s our last night to lie in these arms
Last night to lie in these arms
Last night to lie in these arms”
Anyone that has listened to Iron and Wine over the last fifteen years knows that the artist is no stranger to the tragic parts of life. On “Beast Epic,” Beam doesn’t shy away from it a bit.
At times the album would probably have benefited from letting loose a bit more. There are moments when Beam and his band seem to be on the verge of unleashing themselves, a feat that would be appropriate for an album that calls itself “Beast Epic” (apparently referring to a story where animals act and talk like humans). Yet Beam ultimately chooses pleasant sounds over experimentation, crafting an album that shines through restraint with pastoral beauty.
Standout track “Song in Stone” finds Beam at his songwriting best, weaving poetic lyrics and in-and-out of a rhythmic folk sound:
“Give this to the gray, it comes back gold
Birds of the morning, they may know
Know more than us, giving their hymns for life
Let the waves on the wrong water say what they will say
While the wind and the broken branches float me away
All tall tree lay down if you were the bird who fell into my arms”
It’s fitting that the last song on “Beast Epic” finds Beam and company slowly fading away with “Our Light Miles,” an ethereal song that sparkles in its spaciousness. Though the album isn’t a masterpiece, it’s a grand and beautiful work of art from one of folk’s most trusted voices.