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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Iron & Wine
The Shepherd\'s Dog
Sub Pop

Rating: 8.9/10 ?


September 25, 2007
For established indie darlings with a devoted following, each successive album release provides an opportunity to either pander straight to expectations or to strike out on a new path of self-discovery. When eschewing the precedents established by their back catalogs, artists making a measured move to break new ground are often met with as many detractors as supporters, at least initially. Of course in the realm of popular music there are few guarantees, if any, and the road less taken can just as easily end in universal acclaim (Radiohead dropping Kid A) as it can controversy (Dylan going electric in July of 1965) or overwhelming disdain (the first Travis Morrison album, various phases of Metallica, et cetera). That uncertainty boils it down to one essential question the artist must answer: whether or not to follow the muse. In the case of The Shepherd's Dog, Sam Beam has followed his muse, taking his own path and delivering a weave of new sonic textures that provide a new beginning for Iron & Wine.

The songs here are certainly a marked departure, so structurally different from those that brought Beam's initial success that, paired side by side, they sound remarkably fresh. But that is not to say that the tracks are incongruous with Beam's discography; they just show a very different side of Iron & Wine. The first three tracks focus heavy on non-traditional percussion, hand-clapped rhythms reminiscent of Paul Simon's discovery of African sounds with Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. The early going is less defined, as if Beam is feeling his way and rounding the edges before finding the right balance on "Lovesong of the Buzzard." The track sustains a chanting theme but also harkens back to Beam's tight narrative line and throws in his signature lo-fi acoustic slide guitar sound.

"Carousel" breaks free of the heavy rhythm structure established early on, replacing it with a piano line that softly adds the right texture behind the slightly distorted vocal. Beam's self-described "tone poem" lyric retains a beautiful building cadence signature that was developed so well on the Woman King EP. The gentle guitar and Wurlitzer purr and swirl as Beam gently croons, "And the perfect girls/ by the pool they would protest/ the cross around their necks/ but our sons are overseas/ and we all know about the hive and the honey... bees." Beam's imagery-laden delivery washes over everything, the track bathed in the quiet richness of each line.

Following from those beginnings, The Shepherd's Dog continues to progress into songs that spiral like their tangible rhythms as subtle sound textures work their magic. "Innocent Bones" fuses Beam's gentle vocals with subtle keys, the banjo popping up for good measure and its appearance seeming like an overdue visit from an old friend. The song's relentless rhythms add a cyclical element that only accentuates its familiarity. Later, "Resurrection Fern" sounds like the only song that really could have fit seamlessly on a previous Iron & Wine album, and it serves as a reminder of the beauty at the core of Sam Beam's craft. The song's subtle banjo rhythm floats gently on the low crests of the maracas' cadence, and a beautiful pedal steel line accentuates them both perfectly, the song lighting up like a star.

Interspersed throughout the latter half of the album, a few tracks stand out as real departures. Perhaps leaning a bit too heavily on chant-like vocal marches, "Boy With a Coin" and "Wolves (Song of The Shepherd's Dog)" would be unfamiliar territory if it weren't for Beam's voice. For anyone who thinks these tunes are just spinning their wheels, put on a pair of headphones and focus on the cyclical textures.

His third full-length studio album, The Shepherd's Dog finds Sam Beam's tight lyrics and gorgeous vocals cutting the reins of his lo-fi oxcart, leaving the heavy baggage of The Creek Drank the Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days to stand on its own. Whether blazing a tight new trail or feeling its way in the darkness, each tune on the album heads somewhere, collectively making as much of a stylistic progression as the recording of Our Endless Numbered Days made in fidelity and depth. When it comes to risks, I find few more fulfilling than the one undertaken on The Shepherd's Dog. For those Iron & Wine fans comfortably nestled in Beam's Southern Gothic paradigm who hear this record and don't fall in love at first sight, be warned that it may take time to unravel its layers. But the core is the same: tight melodies layered in bold new textures.

Reviewed by Jeff McMahon
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jeff McMahon

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