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Listening to Iron & Wine's new album 'Light Verse'


The musician Sam Beam, better known by his stage name Iron & Wine, has a new album out. It's called "Light Verse."


IRON AND WINE: (Singing) All in good time, I gave it my best. I was alone till I found myself. Grew up to be a man, more or less, all in good time.

DETROW: It's the singer-songwriter's first solo album in seven years, and NPR's Robin Hilton is here to talk about it. Hey there.

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. How you doing?

DETROW: I'm good. Great to have you on the show. This - you've been listening to this album. It was just released. What stuck out to you?

HILTON: Yeah. I mean, you know, when you look at this very long career now that Sam Beam has had, his earliest recordings, they were pretty lo-fi, very DIY, kind of scruffy around the edges, you know, very much rooted in folk and Americana music but more idiosyncratic. And as his music became more popular, his sound has followed a kind of typical trajectory for artists as they have more to work with, and that is his songs got bigger, more polished. But on this album, I think Sam Beam has found the sweet spot between those two sonic worlds. You know...


HILTON: He's still stretching. The songs are pretty expansive at times, and in fact, I would say there are moments where, you know, this is some of the boldest work he's ever done.

DETROW: I was wondering if this album would validate or surprise you based on that trajectory you were laying out, it seems like.

HILTON: Yeah, for sure. You know, I mean, I think one of the things that's interesting, too, is that you can get this range often on a single song. Like, if you listen to the opening cut, it's called "You Never Know."


IRON AND WINE: (Singing) You never know, know. You never know. You never know, know. You never know. You never know, know. You never, you never know. You never know, know. You never, you never know. You never know, know. You never know.

DETROW: Especially listening in headphones, there's a lot of stuff going on there.

HILTON: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's almost like something you'd hear on, like, on "Sgt. Pepper's."


HILTON: You know, it's like - it has this epic, almost like trippy psychedelic build. And then it lights back down to earth in this really beautiful way, and it just becomes very spare and restrained.


DETROW: Was there another song that you felt like really got to the heart of what this album was about?

HILTON: Yeah, I would say the sort of the centerpiece of the album is a song called "Tears That Don't Matter."


IRON AND WINE: (Singing) Only as true to life as the lost and found, a rock and roll keychain, that wish you could whistle and tears that don't matter now.

HILTON: This song is - it's nearly seven minutes long. It's a little strange and beautiful, and as you listen, it just gets more and more urgent. It just picks up speed as Sam Beam sings about how fleeting and temporary life is, you know, and how there are all these little things in our lives that we think are so important that really don't add up to that much in the end. And I'm not sure he has a clear answer for what really does matter most. It might be in the very opening line of the song when he says, open a door, hold hands. You know, just the simple idea of love and companionship and being open to the life around you.

DETROW: I think a lot of us are still working for the answers to those...

HILTON: Yes. Yes.

DETROW: ...Particular questions. You mentioned a little bit about the lyrics, but I feel like so far, we've been talking a lot more about the sound and the production. Iron & Wine is known for his lyricism, his imagery and storytelling. What stood out to you in the lyrics of this album?

HILTON: Sam Beam's been doing this for more than 20 years now. He turns 50 this year, and on this album, "Light Verse," he's very, very reflective. You know, you listen to a song like the one that he closes with, "Angels Go Home."


IRON AND WINE: (Singing) All the morning after, sudden laughter. All our moons bloom overnight.

HILTON: You know, like a lot of the lyrics in his music over the years, there's nothing too terribly on the nose...


HILTON: ...In this song. But he seems to be saying, you know, in this journey called life, we are all headed - well, we're all headed, essentially, to the same destination. You know, the question is, what are you going to do along the way?


IRON AND WINE: (Singing) Like our friendly fire, naked liars, our tired pomp and circumstance...

HILTON: You know, and again, I don't think he has necessarily a specific answer, but he does seem to be raising a flag here and saying, you know, take stock. Ask questions. Are you present? You know, or are you distracted by all the sort of nonsense of life that sucks up all the air and all of our energy? You know, because this is it.

DETROW: You mentioned that Sam Beam has been doing this for 20 years. At the top, you said that there were there were parts of this album that surprised you based on more recent work. What do you think this album as a whole says about where he is in his career at this point in time?

HILTON: Well, you know, overall, I'd say this is one of the most buoyant albums that Iron & Wine is has ever made. It's very loose, and Sam Beam sounds sort of unencumbered, you know, unburdened in a way. I'm not sure that you would call this a full reset for Sam Beam. But he definitely sounds reinvigorated, and it's certainly among the best albums he's done.

DETROW: That's NPR Music's Robin Hilton. Thank you.

HILTON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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