The majority of music aficionados normally associate the super cool and hugely influential Seattle based record label Sub Pop with grunge, punk and hard-core genres. For those not in the know, it may be a surprise to find out the label also launched the careers of Fleet Foxes and The Shins, both producing a sound far closer to the considered Americana purveyed by Carolina based singer songwriter Sam Beam, also known as Iron & Wine; a moniker gleaned from a dietary supplement Beam spotted on the shelf in a general store whilst shooting a film.
Surrounding himself with familiar friends and collaborators in the studio inevitably brings the best out of Beam and for ‘Beast Epic’ this rings true once more as opening brace ‘Claim Your Ghost’ and ‘Thomas County Law’ set a formidable standard, largely maintained throughout. Both tracks create rich pastoral tapestries of sound that’s both soothing yet a little unsettling at the same time, perhaps not dissimilar to what Martyn or Drake managed to achieve with their listeners. We’re treated to Joe Adamik frequently reverting to drum brushes, Sebastian Steinberg’s rich double bass competing with Jim Becker’s and Teddy Parker’s lush strings, augmented by Rob Burger’s deft piano frills adding welcome sprinkles of fairy dust around the edges. ‘Bitter Truth’ settles a few old scores, the singer in vengeful mood in complete contrast to the delightfully hymnal ‘Song in Stone’, the personification of a charm offensive.
Having previously scored a US number 2 album with 2011’s ‘’Kiss Each Other Clean’, there are a couple of examples how Beam still demonstrates the pop sensibility considerably more prevalent in that recording. Firstly every one of Beast Epic’s eleven songs are under 4 minutes long, each time Beam concisely getting his point across then moving on, no track outstaying its welcome. Secondly the joyously dreamy ‘Last Night’ reminds the listener of Beam’s ability to effortlessly create an infectious pop hook. However, this upbeat moment proves to be the exception amongst a soothing rather than sombre collection of songs, every one again lovingly pieced together, perfect for a summer’s evening or indeed a cold Sunday morning.
Words - Mike Price
Beast Epic is out now on Sub Pop