Back in 2002, Iron and Wine was a "band" in name only — a vehicle for the whispered acoustic bedroom recordings of a college film professor named Sam Beam. Beam's rustic musings sang of death and damnation, love and redemption, while packing a surprising degree of momentum and narrative thrust into what only sounded like gentle folk songs.
If it weren't for Beam's softly engaging croon, the Iron and Wine of the forthcoming Kiss Each Other Clean wouldn't always be recognizable to Beam fans from eight or nine years ago. For one thing, he's evolved into a full-fledged bandleader, following 2007's engagingly springy The Shepherd's Dog with a sound that feels fuzzier, even dirtier. The opening seconds of Kiss Each Other Clean sound like no preceding Iron & Wine record — "Walking Far From Home" swaps out the clean acoustic guitars for layers of fuzz and subtly processed vocals — though the album feels like a natural extension of its marvelous predecessor, and even lets rays of sunlight peek in during songs like "Tree by the River."
Like The Shepherd's Dog, Kiss Each Other Clean showcases Iron and Wine's subtly exploratory, even meandering side. But fans of the group needn't wait until the album's Jan. 25 release date to hear the new innovations for themselves: Wednesday afternoon, Beam and his bandmates appeared on WNYC's Soundcheck to announce a surprise live performance of the new album at The Greene Space in New York City that night — a concert you can now watch in its entirety or download as an mp3.