Thursday, September 23, 2010

Iron and Wine, "The Shepherd's Dog"

Simfy listening: Iron and Wine, The Shepherd's Dog

With its layers of mostly acoustic instruments and a touch of electric guitar, and with its haunting melodies and hypnotic mid-tempo grooves, this is a record for me to love. If I'm ambivalent about it, it has to do with the vocals: with how they are sung and how they are recorded. Samuel Beam (who is Iron and Wine; it's not a band name but his stage name) has a very soft, dreamy voice; he doesn't slur his words as many singers do, but he doesn't clearly articulate them either. And the vocals are recorded with a touch of reverb and closely sung background harmonies that further wash out the words. This singing and recording style contributes hugely to the album's trance-inducing effect—but the lyric love in me feels shortchanged. The bits that I do catch make it clear that there's some excellent lyric writing going on here—but in a sense the lyrics are sacrificed to the overall sound. That sound is wonderful, but I would still like to hear more of the words.

And presenting the lyrics less dreamily would not actually detract from the effect: on Iron and Wine's Around the Well, which I talked about here recently, it was the clarity of the words that made "Belated Promise Ring" stand out for me, without the song being any less hypnotic than the other songs on the album.)


Donald Brown said...

I know what you mean about the 'buried' lyrics, but I have to say that's one reason this album really impressed me: the words sneak up on you much more that way and are part of the music to a degree that seems to suit Beam's delivery and generally understated "I'm no poet" delivery, even though there are great lines throughout. The CD provides a lyric sheet and of course there's always google.

some of my faves:
"flightless bird, american mouth"
"house by the sea"
"lovesong of the buzzard"

I first picked this up because, of all the reverential covers of Dylan songs on the soundtrack of "I'm Not There," only Beam really reinvented his track -- "Dark Eyes" -- with a sound much like this album has.

Michael Listening said...

This record reminds me of my sophomore year. It made Winter 2007/8 sufferable, even likeable, like Bob Dylan's 'Oh Mercy' did the year before. Some seasons are better with a little soundscape, and also crisp and clear enough that the lyrics suffer a little fog without getting lost!
(Then again, the next winter I needed some contrast material to get through, like Noah and the Whale's 'Peaceful, the world lays me down'!)