Sam Beam is one of those singer-songwriters that rarely misses. Regardless of what shape his sometimes solo project Iron & Wine takes on, Beam has managed to consistently deliver some of the best songwriting of the last decade. Beam flipped the script in 2011, turning Iron & Wine into a full band and offering up one of the best pop rock releases of the year in Kiss Each Other Clean.
This year, Iron & Wine will return to release its fifth full-length record. The LP is titled Ghost on Ghost and is set for release on April 16 via Nonesuch Records. Listen to the album’s first single “Lovers’ Revolution” below. The track finds Beam sticking with the full band, with minimalist jazz undertones.
A Note on The Rankings
I hate lists. I don’t understand the necessity of slapping a score on anything other than a sporting event. This is particularly true of art. Pitchfork’s rating system is the single element of that blog that I loathe the most. When Drake’s album Take Care recently earned an 8.6, I vomited a bit. However, I understand that it was an important release for a lot of listeners. An album that I consider the greatest of the year, could be the worst thing you’ve ever heard. Who the fuck am I to tell you otherwise? Art is subjective and should remain so. If you talk to me next week, my list of top albums will likely be different – or the rankings, at minimum, would be shuffled. That being said, here’s my Top 10:
10. The Bonesetters – SAVAGES!
This is an Indiana blog, and we spend the bulk of our time covering the Indianapolis music scene. With that in mind, I would have felt irresponsible for failing to include my favorite Hoosier release of the year. As I said in my review earlier this week, this is an album free of gimmicks. Just pure, unadulterated goodness. Go see The Bonesetters live. Buy the album. Thank me later.
9. Feist – Metals
Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist rose to prominence with her 2006 release The Reminder, featuring pop songs that immediately engrained themselves in the listener’s mind like “1234” and “Mushaboom.” Unfortunately, that album toed the line of tolerance for me, coming dangerously close to played out irrelevance. That’s part of the reason why I adored her 2011 release Metals. I found myself repeatedly reaching for these songs any time I was in the mood for easy listening. It has never failed me, and never gotten old.
8. The Coasts – The Coasts
This album means a lot to me. I was introduced to lead singer Ike Peters via Turntable.fm. I fell immediately in love with his self-titled release when it hit the interwebs in August. Peters and bandmate Eric Mount were kind enough to grant this blog its first band interview, despite the fact that we still had no clue what we were doing. Okay, maybe we still don’t, but that post legitimized this project for me. At the time, I didn’t realize that we were the first publication of any kind to interview The Coasts. A few months later, their song “RIOT!” had reached enough ears to be played during the credits of 90210. I feel like their band and our blog have grown up together, like neighborhood kids that played on the same soccer team. More important than any of this is the fact that this album kicks ass. I love these guys and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
7. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
Like the best movies, Paul Simon keeps getting better with age. His 2011 release is worth is right up there with Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints as one of his greatest releases to date. Refusing to rest on his laurels, Simon soaks in influences like a world weary sponge, spewing them forth to the masses in his own unique voice. And what a voice! I left his recent Bloomington performance convinced that it was the best retirement-age rock show I have ever been to. This revelation comes despite the fact that I have seen Dylan (multiple times), The Stones, The Beach Boys, Clapton and Elton John. He is the best. Period.
6. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Indie superstar and renowned grower of beards, Sam Beam, has been wowing critics and audiences with his awe inspiring acoustic songwriting for years. One of the toughest decisions of my year was to skip out on his show at The Vogue for The Black Keys at The Lawn. I know, life is tough right? I knew Beam could write a song with the best of them. However, I was never convinced that his writing style could withstand the force of a full backing band. All concerns can safely be put to rest. I would argue, to the displeasure of his rabid fan base, that Kiss Each Other Clean is Beam’s greatest work to date. I’m still kind of pissed at myself for leaving “Big Burned Hand” off of my list for best songs of the year. Shame on you, Rob. Shame.
5. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic
The first four tracks of Mirror Traffic may go down as my favorite sequence of songs of the year. I have, admittedly, never delved deep into the indie legend’s catalog. The massive amount of material from Pavement and his various side projects was always too intimidating from a size perspective for me to sift through. Fortunately, Mirror Traffic was too good to ignore, and I am now officially on the bandwagon. The second song, “No One Is (As I Are Be)” contains the best line of the year from this writer’s humble opinion: “I cannot even do one sit-up / Sit-ups are so bourgeoise” Only Malkmus could have written that line. His sold out show at Earth House was one of the year’s best, and so is this album.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This one took a while to grow on me. To be honest, I have a general disdain for artists that rely too heavily on vocal effects. I’m a non-violent person, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet between the eyes of whatever scum bag invented the insufferable auto-tune machine. Though I respected Justin Vernon’s 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, for its sincerity and emotional candor, the music itself left me less than enthused. It wasn’t until his performance at The Murat that I realized my feelings were misplaced. The depth of Vernon’s self-titled album was on full display that night. The songs are so deceptively simple, that I stood slack jawed as his nine-man band went to work. Congrats to Bloomington label Jagjaguwar on putting out some of the best shit this side of 2010.
3. Real Estate – Days
The album of the fall is also one of the best releases of the year. I’m a sucker for great singing, addictive choruses and easy listening. Days has it all. I don’t see this album leaving my rotation of weekly listens any time in the near future. It’s a go to for road trips, drinking outdoors and attempted make-out sessions. I can play this album for my parents or my peers and the response is the same: these kids rock.
2. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L
To understand my love for Merrill Garbus, you need simply read my review of her Bloomington show at Rhino’s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no other artist like this. Garbus exists in a world of her own. Sure there are plenty of indie bands looping their voice and backbeats, but none of them have her voice. I remember sitting up late at night when NPR Music announced their stream of W H O K I L L via their First Listen series. I had been awaiting this release with baited breath, and Garbus delivered. Her style is not for everyone and if you don’t agree with my selection, there’s no hard feelings. tUnE-yArDs just happens to be a sound that gets my juices flowing.
1. The Beach Boys – Smile
They just don’t make them like this anymore. Period. Unlimited studio time with world class studio musicians is a thing of the past. You win Napster. Although the songs from Smile are undeniable winners, the real joy I derive from this album comes from listening to Brian Wilson nitpick musicians in the studio. Though he is a certifiable nutjob, the simple fact remains that his ears should be preserved in a museum for all eternity. The man is responsible for some of the greatest pop songs that have ever graced the airwaves, and the eccentricity that led to this greatness is on full display here. Thanks for finally allowing the masses to finally get a taste.
Written by Rob Peoni