Iron & Wine Is Back With ‘Beast Epic,’ One of His Best Records Yet

Iron & Wine has been a source of love, pain and inward thinking for fans since founder Sam Beam first released the deeply intimate “The Creek Drank the Cradle” back in 2002. Two similarly veined albums followed (“Our Endless Numbered Days” and “The Shepard’s Dog”), which saw Beam continue down an acoustic-lead path of very sincere song-writing. It was here, though, that we began to see the bearded southerner turn to more influences and record labels, making the few albums that trailed either highly collaborative or almost taking up an entirely new genre. Now, with his latest release “Beast Epic,” Beam is back with his original label (Sub Pop) and his original sound.

Recorded at Wilco’s home studio in Chicago, the album was made live with negligible overdubs, making it as raw-sounding as some of the earlier Iron & Wine records. This is a concept fans have seemingly been waiting for, as it’s been some time since Beam returned to his roots. Understandably so, however, it’s only natural for musicians to veer off their original path at some point. Luckily, though, for the fans that crave that 2004-era sound, he’s obliged with “Beast Epic.” From the opening, breathy countdown and guitar taps, it’s clear that this album is all him. From song-writing to production, Beam is back pushing through his best and most vulnerable self.

Fans’ first taste of this new-old Iron and Wine came with the lead single “Call it Dreaming” where a precise progression is casually strummed, allowing each flick of the string to be clearly embraced. No frills are found in the accompanying video, where Beam gets picked up by a driverless vintage Ford truck on a country road. He hops in the back and begins to pick up varying strangers in need of a helping hand. Beam has this ability to craft a song so heartwarming, that it becomes somehow heartbreaking. “We can drift and call it dreaming/we can weep and call it singing,” he sings with a beard as long as it’s ever been.

As with most of his music, each song tells a new tale with interpretations galore. It’s like trying to interpret a Walt Whitman poem. There’s truth to be found regardless of the reader. The country-sounding “Bitter Truth” encourages subtle swaying amongst a tale of love and loss. The chipper “About a Bruise” details an ode to Alabama through nature and undeniably precise guitar playing. Here, Beam almost lets loose a bit, slipping in some sound effects and goofy lines about a mall cop in Mobile and clovers masquerading as weeds. “Last Light” begins with a flurry of ascending guitar and piano, punctuated by a charming, albeit silly, plucking of the strings as Beam croons about a night of embrace.

In a personally released statement, Beam writes in regards to the album, “I have always been fascinated by the way time asserts itself on our bodies and our hearts.” This concept of time’s varying ways of assertion rings clear on the video for “Travis County Law.” As Beam casually roams around an aging barn, dusting off pews, picking lilies and setting up chairs to prepare for a funeral, it’s revealed that he himself lays within the casket. He sings during the sermon, “There are castles for kings, there are birds without wings / I could whine ‘bout it all, but I won’t.”

It’s as if Beam has come full circle, like it was necessary for him to leave behind his old self only to rediscover it all these years later through time. His voice is just as attached to his poetic lyrics as it’s ever been. As clichéd as this analogy may be, here’s proof that Iron & Wine truly does get better with age.

Beast Epic” is available Aug. 25 on Apple Music.