Iron and Wine’s Around the Well is “genuine album experience”

Filmmaker-turned-folk-singer Samuel Beam is certain to both attract new followers and satiate loyal fans with his most contemporary Sub Pop release, Around the Well (May 19th, 2009). A far cry from the miscellaneous concoction of rarities, covers, and b-sides that comprise the majority of two-disc CD sets, Iron and Wine’s latest truly delivers a genuine album experience.
Divided as such, the first disc contains many a throwback to Beam’s earlier recordings, featuring myriad unedited pieces that the Iron and Wine neophyte would most likely label “flat” and “lackluster.” However, for Beam diehards, the first disc is bound to please—particularly its inclusion of multiple unconventional covers, from Stereolab’s “Peng! 33” to the Flaming Lips’ “Waitin’ for a Superman.” Representative of Iron and Wine’s more primitive sessions, the first disc best captures the (native) South Carolinian folk singer’s penchant for minimalism, haunting vocals, and biblical allusion.
Whereas the set’s first half features ambling chord repetitions, Sufjan-esque imagery, and enough twang to satisfy any alt-country critic, the second disc contains a plethora of dynamic and experimental (at least in Beam’s terms) studio-tweaked standouts. Transcending the hyper-regionalism and safe sound of Iron and Wine’s earlier compositions—often characterized as too subdued to be compelling, the second disc comprises a quantum leap in vitality and a capacity to push the envelope. From the upbeat romanticism of “Belated Promise Ring,” and the catchy complexity and tribal intensity of “Serpent Charmer,” to the funk overtones of “Arms of a Thief,” the second half will potentially impress even the freak folk leaning crowd.
Fan favorite “The Trapeze Swinger,” featured in 2004’s comedy-drama In Good Company, concludes Around the Well with a bang—not a whimper.
Rating (out of 10): 8.5/10

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