Iron and Wine’s latest offering is very much like catching up with an old friend. An old friend who very much looks the same as they did the last time you saw them, only this time they have a slight tinge of grey in their hair and seem to see the world through a moderately different lens. In the case of frontman Sam Beam’s Beast Epic, this is simultaneously a positive and a negative. This melancholic offering is exactly what one is to expect from an Iron and Wine album, bearing mostly similarities to his previous efforts such as the classic Our Endless Numbered Days.
The tone of this album is a hard one to put down- it manages to be both melancholic and uplifting at the same time. “Claim Your Ghost”, the opening track, immediately confronts us with the recurring motifs of time passing and sadness of a past far behind us. “Killers let go” is repeated throughout, remaining ambiguous as to its true meaning. Perhaps the “killer” here is literally time itself, which all comes for us eventually. Whilst not the most positive note to start on, the refrain is sung more of an acceptance of fate, rather than a cry against the inevitable. On the album’s subject matter, Beam states that he “remains fascinated by the way time asserts itself on our bodies and our hearts [like a] ferris wheel that keeps spinning.” The very first line, “Our Winters keeps running us down”, also points to the overwhelming effect that time has on us.
In a similarly poignant note, “Summer Clouds” also forces us to contend with the passage of time and change. With only a guitar and various interspersed piano notes, the nod to acceptance is also present on this track. The repeated line, “by the end”, is in direct contrast with the presence of summer (often presented a period of carefreeness and goldenness). “We [will] leave somewhere too long to ever come back” Beam also sings, a somewhat bittersweet sentiment. We are constantly reminded that the present must come to an end and transition into the past. It is an experience we will all have to confront, making the execution of the song even more touching. While the meaning of the album sometimes does have to be searched deep within the lyrics (as it often is with indie folk), but there is no doubting the heartfulness of the words.
On a happier tangent, tracks such as “Right for the Sky” and “Call it Dreaming” stop the album from falling down a hole of total pessimism. Telling us we “have the chance to say/ before we ease away”, reminds the listener that life is what we make of it. Furthermore, time can also bring pleasant, or dare I say it, better things.
It is interesting to see the way in which Beam straddles between the stripped back instruments that accompany traditional folk and the (sometimes) claustrophobic musical elements that often defines indie folk. Some tracks, such as “Bitter Truth,” merely consist of mellow acoustics supported by an unobtrusive string quartet, harking back to songs such as “Naked as We Came.” To some fans, it will no doubt be a reunion with his earliest work, while others might dismay at the interchangeability and similarity to the past- given that the entire album is seemingly about the passing and letting go of time. However, regardless of your individual stance, it is obvious that Beam’s vocals are supposed to shine through and invite us to consider the gravity of his words. Overall,the relationship between the active voice and supporting instrumentals create a well written harmonious piece.