Iron and Wine: Archive Series Volume No. 1

Archive Series Volume No. 1 ought to be considered an absolutely mandatory acquisition.

Iron & Wine

Archive Series Volume No. 1

Label: Black Cricket
US Release Date: 2015-02-24
UK Release Date: 2015-02-23

Sam Beam is an unusual artist to say the least. Unusual because he came from an academic background that didn’t necessarily hint at any kind of musical mantra. Prior to adopting the moniker Iron and Wine, he established himself as the scholarly type, thanks to his tenure as a professor of film and cinematography at the University of Miami and at the Miami International University of Art & Design.

Nevertheless, fate took the reins when Beam gave one of his early demos to Michael Bridwell, the brother of Band of Horses’ singer Ben Bridwell. Bridwell, in turn, passed the tape on to a magazine editor who subsequently opted to include it in a new music compilation. It was then that he attracted the notice of Sub Pop Records, for whom he released a stunning sequence of albums shortly after his signing in 2002. The rest, as the old saying goes, is history.

In fact, there’s enough history there to dictate Iron and Wine’s first official archive compilation. Drawn from dozens of outtakes originally intended for Beam’s landmark recording and the one that drew worldwide attention, The Creek Drank the Cradle, its 16 songs make up the first of what’s promised to be an ongoing series of independently released catalog offerings.

Happily though, these tracks don’t consist of mere outtakes and leftovers destined for – or deserving of -- the storage bins. To the contrary, they’re good enough to rank as a most worthy addition to Iron and Wine’s classic catalogue. In fact, none of the songs in this set offer any musical differences from the fully realized material that make up Iron and Wine’s “official” releases; after all, Beam has been typically low-key and unobtrusive in all things when it comes to mining his muse. Consequently, Archive Series Volume No. 1 ought to be considered an absolutely mandatory acquisition, not only because it provides a bounty of additional songs, but also because in lieu of an original offering, it’s yet another reminder of just how deliriously seductive Beam is when he’s at his best. 

As always, then, the emphasis is on ambiance, a hushed, forlorn, contemplative sound that’s accomplished mainly by the strum of an acoustic guitar, the occasional pluck of a banjo, and beguiling multi-layered harmonies that rarely, if ever, rise above a whisper. Not surprisingly perhaps, there’s an early Simon and Garfunkel vibe adorning many of these songs, due at least in part to more than a hint of yearning, desire and despair. While that might suggest a big bring down, in fact, the opposite is true. In a catastrophe-prone world of noise, danger and uncertainty, Beam’s gentle reassurance offers unexpected relief. At times, that sense of serenity can simply be stunning, and thanks to meditative melodies like “Judgement”, “Quarters in a Pocket” and “Wade Across the Water”, Beam achieves a sublime beauty that’s simply unequalled in terms of its embrace.

That then affirms the very reason why Beam’s been able to build his reputation from that of an indie amateur to one of an accomplished auteur. One can only hope that Archive Series Volume No. 1 is simply the start of other archive offerings yet to come.


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

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

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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

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