Iron & Wine: Morning Becomes Eclectic

Sam Beam & co. stretch their wings but never really take flight.

Iron & Wine

Morning Becomes Electric

Label: self-released
US Release Date: 2011-11-26
UK Release Date: 2011-12-05

Morning Becomes Electric is a radio program based out of KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., which features in-studio performances by well-regarded acts. Sam Beam's Iron and Wine paid a visit to the show in January 2011, playing a handful of songs and engaging in a bit of on-air interview time with host Jason Bentley. For I&W completists, this is an engaging enough set, featuring three songs from the then-new Kiss Each Other Clean album as well as a few older favorites and rarities. Compared with the band's inventive live shows from 2011, though (I caught them in Portland in May), this set is disappointingly tame.

It's also a radio broadcast, which means some of the already-brief running time is given over to chitchat. Cut away the three conversation tracks, and you're left with just eight songs, only one of which stretches close to five minutes; several are disappointingly slight. "Boy With a Coin" clocks in at 3:30, considerably shorter than the album length, and feels stifled.

That said, the performances are all well played. Beam brings the full complement of musicians into the studio with him -- eleven in all -- and it's clear that these professionals know what is expected of them. For all the layers of brass, keyboards, guitars and percussion, the songs never feel overwrought or busy; the band has always relied on precision and understatement, and that's true here. Set opener "Tree by the River" floats along on waves of strummed acoustic guitar and contains a breeziness absent from the more-layered (and longer) LP version.

The standout cuts here are probably "Summer in Savannah" and "My Lady's House", which are both, coincidentally or not, longer tunes that allow for this roomful of musicians to show off their chops a little. "Summer in Savannah", released as a bonus track on the single for "Walking Far From Home", bounces with a funky groove quite unexpected from this outfit. "My Lady’s House" from 2005's Woman King EP, is classic Iron & Wine, a soft, down-tempo number that puts Beam's wistful vocals front and center. This version adds a bit to the sonic stew and stretches out the tune. Meanwhile "Me and Lazarus", another track from Kiss Each Other Clean, ramps up the fuzzy wah-wah guitar, to good effect.

More of that would have been welcome, but radio is radio, and so the longest track by far is the 10-minute-plus interview with Beam that interrupts the set halfway through. Not only does it disrupt the band's flow, but it adds relatively little to the listener's appreciation of the music. Beam seems like a tremendously good-natured guy, and his soft-spoken Southern drawl is a welcome antidote to the over-hyped "attitude" sported by so many pop and rock musicians, but it's unlikely that many listeners will listen to these conversations more than once. That said, Beam's reflections on his artistic approach to songwriting, which seems rooted as much in his visual arts background as in anything musical, is engaging enough the first time around.

This set is a pleasant enough addition to Iron & Wine’s discography, then, but with only eight short songs and tame arrangements totaling less than half an hour of music, it is far from crucial.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.