Iron & Wine: Light Verse [Album Review]

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Iron & Wine
Light Verse
Sub Pop Records [2024]

Album Overview: Light Verse is the first album of new “solo” Iron & Wine material Sam Beam has released since 2017’s Beast Epic. That record was something of a return to form in the sense that it had a more acoustic-based sound, one that peeled back some of the instrumental layers that Beam had started experimenting with as far back as The Shepherd’s Dog a decade earlier. Light Verse continues that stripped-down feel on many of its tracks, but adds some new textures along the way.

Musical Style: While Beam’s songwriting style has always been fairly consistent, most Iron & Wine records have a unique musical feel and Light Verse is no exception. The most obvious change is the addition of a string section on many songs, giving the record a chamber-folk sound that lends it a sense of grandeur. Other influences do peek out in spots, though—a little bit of gospel here, a touch of psych-folk there.

Evolution of Sound: At its core, Light Verse is a singer-songwriter or “folk” album like most of Iron & Wine’s catalogue. It doesn’t stray too far from the ground Beam has trodden before, but the addition of the string section, a duet with Fiona Apple, and some songwriting experiments keep the album from feeling like a re-tread of previous releases.

Artists with Similar Fire: The album’s mostly quiet, mostly acoustic-based sound calls to mind contemporaries like Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom, while the baroque flourishes at times recall the symphonic-pop works of studio-based songwriters like Van Dyke Parks and Harry Nilsson.

Pivotal Tracks: The more upbeat tracks like “Anyone’s Game” and “Sweet Talk” add some variety and show Beam can still craft catchy pop melodies. The Fiona Apple duet “All In Good Time” is another highlight, its piano-based arrangement and alternated vocals giving it a gospel feel. Some of the quieter tracks get a little experimental in terms of the songwriting, like opener “You Never Know” and “Yellow Jacket,” while others like “Cutting It Close” and “Taken By Surprise” are classic Iron & Wine.

Lyrical Strength: If you’re familiar with Beam’s lyrical style, the title of the album should strike you as ironic. The songs on Light Verse mix introspective personal observations with symbolism and oblique imagery. You can connect with their surface-level pathos or get drawn in by their inscrutable iconography, but those two experiences aren’t mutually exclusive.

Years To Burn (w/ Calexico) (2019) / Beast Epic (2017) / Sing Into My Mouth (w/ Ben Bridwell) (2015) / Archive Series Vol. No. 1 (2015) / Ghost On Ghost (2013)

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