Favoring the jazzy over the circuitous, Beam's songwriting on this go-around has a very smooth, straightforward sheen to it. "The Desert Babbler" would fit in nicely onstage at some dirtily classy lounge out west. The Motown-ish backup singers add to that sort of vibe that's felt throughout the album. And the brass! Little flourishes of horn play out like a keen compatriot as Beam weaves in and out of his yarns, adding yet another layer of distance from his past works.
And that distance seems to be one of the unspoken themes of the music (and the band's tenure). If you weren't to check the liner notes ahead of time, you may not even know that this is an Iron and Wine album. For an artist always seeking new universes, that's a double-edged sword that flashes alternating signs of progress and misspoken intentions.
Take the opener from 2010's Kiss Each Other Clean. "Walking Far From Home" was certainly worlds away from anything Beam and the band had done up until that point. But it's shock value worked and it hooked listeners in with its strange structure. The secrets held within Ghost on Ghost are most definitely less apparent, but it's not entirely a sure thing that they'll bear fruit as effectively.
The build-up behind "Singers and the Endless Song" has one of the more infectious grooves on the album. Between the harmonic work and the bop-bop brass pirouettes, there's plenty to like in the background of the song. But the up-front bulk of much of Ghost on Ghost leaves the listener yearning for more.
It's a foggy day in Cleveland today and, in the end, there's a new Iron and Wine album to dig into. That's as good a reason as any to relax, toss the windows open toward the springtime rain and listen to some music.
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