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Published: 2009/07/06
by Fady Khalil

Around the Well – Iron and Wine

Sub Pop
The thing about Iron and Wine—also known as Samuel Beam—is that, in a sense, hes in a category of his own making. His hybridization of indie sensibilities with a folk mentality propels him past the musical norm. Further still, his formulaic sound, comprised of immediately recognizable, monotone vocals, sorrow filled lyrics, and sinewy compositions, have fated him, for better or worse, to be endlessly compared primarily to himself and his own past works. Thats not entirely uncommon amongst artists with unique sounds and highly specialized stylistic approaches, but it proves crucial here, because it profoundly affects the way one digests his latest release, Around the Well.
With two discs and 23 songs in total, Around the Well is actually a retrospective of sorts, bringing together a collection of Iron and Wines b-sides, unreleased tracks, and an assortment of other odds and ends. To the most ardent of fans, this proves a very compelling draw, as these rarities are all out of print, and difficult if not impossible to find otherwise. To newcomers, this album offers the same unnerving depth, and raw, naked truths set to folk backdrops that perhaps only the likes of Nick Drake himself was ever able to fully realize. But to the rest of us, who simply enjoy the sound in a non-committal sort of way, there are only a few moments where this release truly shines.
By far, the second disc, proves the greatest store of memorable cuts. The unusually bright (for Iron and Wine) guitar theme throughout Belated Promise Ring, is aptly met with a joyful bit of piano riffing that conjures gleefulness slightly unexpected from the generally sullen work of Beam, harkening more to the energy of an Avett Brothers performance. Likewise, Communion Cups and Someones Coat, finds a layering of vocals with a female counterpart that gives new life to Beam’s true, but tried, vocals.
God Made the Automobile has an unusual motion about it, similar to Boy with a Coin on _The Shepards Dog _, puzzling indeed. Adventure abounds on the nine-minute The Trapeze Swinger, earning mention for unusual length alone, and Carried Home for its daring use of synthesized tones. But Arms of a Thief deserves special regard, with a confluence of sounds so alien in the Iron and Wine library as to arguably earn the song a rightful place as the jewel of the album. Industrial clangs collide with electro-generated synth pulses, as all the while Beams dulcet voice sails effortlessly underneath the brewing tempest just above; a truly splendid and unique cut.
One of the disappointing elements of this album is the number of throw away songs, so similar to previously released works, as to render them completely redundant and unnecessary. Maybe this is inescapable on a retrospective album, but nonetheless aggravating. These largely are the product of Beams home recordings, housed on the first disc. The most flagrant violators of originality codes are Dearest Forsaken, Loud as Hope, and No Moon which sound indistinguishable from numbers on previous effort, The Creek Drank the Cradle, right down to the thematic banjo slide pervasive on the 2002 release.
But, at the end of the day, who am I joking; this album will still find a long-term residence in my musical player of choice. I suppose thats the true magic of Samuel Beam, even though all logic belies listening to similar songs played slightly differently, album after album, I still find myself irrevocably willed to do so. I suppose anyone willing to expose emotional nerves as courageously as Beam, will always demand and receive an audience ever-eager for honest expression. So, I guess, you can find me Around the Well after all. Damn you Iron and Wine, damn you.

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