Sometimes a person is just late to the party when it comes to film, music, and the like. That’s when the phrase “better late than never” comes into play. So, I decided it would be fun to review things (an album in this case) that have been out for a while and that I haven’t really explored until now. Hence this particular category that I’m calling “Old Is New Reviews.” My first entry: Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron & Wine.
What’s not to love about the “bearded man with a guitar in the woods” sound? It’s something you can put on at anytime from a gorgeous summer day to a frosty winter night, in moments of bottom-of-the-pit sadness to pure clap-your-hands joy. At least, that’s how I feel about Iron & Wine, especially on his second full-length album. My earliest exposure to the work of Sam Beam was 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean when I started my own college radio show. At the time, I understood that the sound on that album was much different compared to what he was known for, but I liked a song or two. It occurred to me to check out Beam’s earlier work but, well, you get a lot of music thrown at you in the radio station.
Fast forward nabbing all of the Iron & Wine off my girlfriend’s computer, I definitely wish I’d gotten into it sooner. I may be a big metal guy, but sometimes I just need something mellow and tranquil, engaging but doesn’t demand your full attention if you don’t want to give it. Our Endless Numbered Days fits pretty much all my criteria, a perfect album to listen to while writing, driving, sleeping, or even just hanging out doing nothing. It provides atmosphere, but also excellent songwriting that you can pay as much or as little attention to depending on the task at hand. For example, the album has helped keep my mind lightly stimulated while writing this review. I am aware of the calming voice and guitar flowing through my ears, but it’s not wrestling for my attention. But when I’m out driving, I can devote more brainpower to paying attention to Beam’s gorgeous, melancholy lyrics. Sometimes an album’s versatility is its greatest attribute.
You would think that an album sticking with the “bearded man with a guitar in the woods” sound from start to finish would get boring. Maybe in other cases, but certainly not with this one. You get wrapped up in the cheerful sounding but ultimately morbid poetry of “Naked As We Came” or the slightly more sinister nature of “Free Until They Cut Me Down”. The overall musical approach may be the same throughout, but it certainly isn’t lacking in variety. My personal favorite is “Sodom, South Georgia”, which, in my opinion, is a culmination of the morbid and melancholy nature of the album, an observance of a bittersweet but beautiful death.
Most fans seem to consider this Iron & Wine’s finest album, and after listening to all of them (with the exception of the new covers album) I’m inclined to agree. It’s certainly the first album I’d recommend starting with for someone new to his music, like myself. My opinion may change after I spend more time with his music, but for now I’d put it at the top. On each subsequent listen, around the time “Each Coming Night” plays, this thought occurs to me: “Why did I wait so long?”