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Iron & Wine Returns To The Whispers And Hush On 'Beast Epic'

Iron & Wine's new album is titled <em>Beast Epic</em>.
Kim Black
Courtesy of the artist
Iron & Wine's new album is titled Beast Epic.

In the 15-plus years since Sam Beam released his debut album as Iron & Wine, the singer-songwriter has added layer upon layer to his soft-spoken sound. Once a purveyor of whispered home recordings, Beam began collaborating with other bands and singers — Calexico first, followed later by Jesca Hoop and Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell — and expanding Iron & Wine's increasingly dense approach in order to encompass intricate percussion and blaring horns.

With Beast Epic, Beam and his band go quiet again, scaling back the lavish orchestration while maintaining a sense of brightness and verve. It's an album full of transitions — the singer himself chalks them up to "growing up after you've already grown up," a concept familiar to anyone who's lived long enough to employ the euphemism "midlife" — that appropriately synthesizes several eras of Iron & Wine's music. The result feels clearer of head and heart, and less fatalistic, than Beam has ever sounded. And, in "Call It Dreaming," it takes all of five words for the singer to sum up a truth that's been central to Iron & Wine since the beginning: "Our music's warmer than blood."

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)