3} Iron and Wine : Kiss Each Other Clean
Listening to Sam Beam’s debut as Iron and Wine, The Creek Drank The Cradle, at the time of it’s release, Nostradamus the Rock Critic foresaw a long string of LPs filled with fragile, ultra low-key, contemporary folk filling out his career. Perhaps a brief flirtation with impressively obscure world music flourishes when he hit middle age? A misguided concept album of melodically challenged epitaph songs accompanied by monastic chants? Definitely a stop in at the nautical/Gone Troppo port for the record that every singer-songwriter must resist making, lest they never escape Margaritaville again. But mostly more of his trademark lacy acoustic guitar lines, whispery lullaby vocals, and Walt Whitman singin’ the body electric lyrics. Nostradamus the Rock Critic was wrong. Beam started fleshing out his sound on album number two, bringing in the strings and piano, adding pillowy layers of harmony vocals. His third album truly surprised by sounding like a band, full of moody, layered sounds and impressive playing. He also put Tom Waits’ pots and pans percussion kit to good use on that one. Kiss Each Other Clean (album #4) is Iron and Wine in hi-def technicolor 3D. And it brings the funk. Seriously. It’s got sizzling-fat slap bass, horns galore, and some of that obscure world music stuff. Okay, Nostradamus got a little bit right. Beam has pulled off the un-mean feat of pushing himself to do something different and better with each record. He still whispers sometimes, but now he croons and belts, too. There is a gorgeous, simple piano song on here, and an epic, gospel-raucous wall of sound closer. Iron and Wine was really good even when it was just a guy strumming to his poetry notebook, but now we get to hear Beam and company build a glittering temple of sound while he sings like Robert Frost out of the mouth of Marvin Gaye.
2} Destroyer : Kaputt
Dan Bejar’s place in the pop music firmament has been like a damp, candle lit cave, filled with dirty satin pillows, stacks of out-of-print poetry books, vintage porn mags, and foreign films on 16mm, a lair where he could spend endless hours building beautifully meticulous replicas of historical sites out of junkyard detritus, then blow them to pieces with cherry bombs. He likes mess. Wonderful, queasy, kaleidoscopic, Ziggy Stardust gettin’ it on with Bob Dylan’s girlfriend in 1776… mess. His one previous foray into clearer, smoother territory (2004’s Your Blues) still felt slightly fried and out of control for all it’s synthesized sounds and fauxchestral arrangements. With Kaputt, Bejar really takes Destroyer into the smooth zone. His trademark meta-referential-drunken-rock-n-roll-bard-of-irony act is intact, but sobered up a bit and dressed in a really nice Italian suit. Lyrics are evocative but spare. Guitars don’t growl or misbehave, they purr and dance in perfect sync with 80s vintage saxophones and machine tooled beats. On Kaputt, Destroyer has found the perfect sophisto-hedonist three-way between New Order’s icy-ecstatic club pop, Steely Dan’s literate jazzbo-funk, and Roxy Music’s neu romantic indulgence.
1} St. Vincent : Strange Mercy
Annie “St. Vincent” Clark could conquer the adult contempo market if she wanted. She could be Sarah Maclachlan. Her voice is as warm and plush as a velvet plum, and she sure can write a sticky tune. She could also make some seriously challenging music full of dissonant skronk and boggling polyrhythms. Maybe she’ll do one of those things later. But I hope not. Right now she can’t stop herself from doing both at the same time, and it is a thing of beauty. She throws barbed wire guitar shreds in the midst of a gorgeous pop tune, veers her songs into melodic cul-de-sacs and over rubble strewn beds of wonky beats, before soaring back on course, her golden pipes rising through the wooze like so many bubbles in a glass of champagne . Enjoy it while it lasts.
Matt Kindt makes a huge leap into the realm of great comic artists/writers with 3 STORY: The Secret History of the Giant Man, an absolutely fantastic graphic novel that tells the tragic story of a giant man through the eyes of his mother, wife, and daughter. This book is as thoughtful, humane, and beautifully constructed as any prose novel, and the subtle, organic watercolored drawings will knock your socks off. Then you can use them to wipe up your tears! Buy it at your local indie bookstore: