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Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.) 

The spacey neon album cover of Kiss Each Other Clean announces the 22nd-century version of Iron and Wine, but it's not a reinvention so much as another wave of progression from those home-taped, four-track roots.

For a songwriter—Sam Beam—who arrived so fully formed that his acclaimed debut record was literally just a batch of demos, the question is whether simplicity is the only element lost as Beam stretches out for a fuller sound.

Overall, simplicity is the only element sacrificed on Kiss Each Other Clean, a big and spacey mix of synthesizers, electric guitars, percussion, clavinet and even saxophone. But with the exception of a few moments of distraction ("Big Burned Hand" takes an awkward step toward funk), this sonic swirl doesn't overshadow or detract from the quality or vision of Beam's songs.

If ever a singer didn't need Auto-Tune, it's Sam Beam—and the otherwise intrusive technology is draped around his voice in the album's opening moments. By removing the "Passing Afternoon" quality of his voice, Beam steps into a cosmic, psychedelic realm.

Nowhere is this more lively incarnation of Beam better executed than on the seven-minute closer "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me," an epic, circling, widening-gyre type of song, with the chanted "we will become, become" growing bigger and wilder with each repetition.

Beam could've built a long and celebrated career by simply recycling the hushed folk intimacy of his debut, but restlessness and bolder sounds suit him even better.

More by Eric Swedlund

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