Iron & Wine 2024
Photo: Kim Black / Sub Pop

Iron & Wine Take a Mature Approach to ‘Light Verse’

A mix of mature realism and lingering hope gives Iron & Wine’s Light Verse its heart. Sam Beam only needs to search for sweetness when it’s hidden.

Light Verse
Iron & Wine
Sub Pop
26 April 2024

Sam Beam, the artist behind Iron & Wine, didn’t write for a while. If the pandemic inspired other musical creators, it shut Beam down for a few years. He put out some music – a live album, an EP, some archival stuff – but proper Iron & Wine didn’t appear until he could finally shake off what he’s described as paralysis. When he returned, he did so with a bit of humor, darkness, and a continuing big-hearted look at his surroundings, meaning the new album is quintessentially Beam, growing and modified but unchanged in significant ways. As if to make sure we’re all in on the good-natured cosmic joke he explores, Beam’s named this latest release Light Verse, a wry take on an album with plenty of lightness but lacking the whimsy or puerility we might associate with that poetic phrase.

The North Carolinian folk musician headed to Los Angeles to make this record, and nothing epitomizes that location and Beam’s general mood more than “All in Good Time”. The song comes with a pristine production that would have been unthinkable for Iron & Wine 20 years ago, but that now makes perfect sense. Beam duets with Fiona Apple, whose distinct voice jumps out in the context of a Beam record but quickly wraps into the sound as if it had always been there.

The song, as catchy as anything Iron & Wine has done, could be Beam’s answer to Ecclesiastes. He and Apple feel the inevitability of decay; to everything, there is a season, it seems, to “go to shit”. Yet there’s a beauty in the track. The humor helps, and it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at “Mistook that cash in the mattress for love.” It’s easier to know the feeling of “I told my future by reading your lips / You wore my ring until it didn’t fit,” but Iron & Wine opens everything up by the end as if accepting disaster doesn’t mean losing appreciation for what came before or hope for what might come next.

Beam can speak of life’s events in his time because he writes as someone who can look back but is content to be in the present. He repeatedly meets and loses lovers and friends. Nothing quite holds together, but that’s okay. Life can be sad, but it’s better than the alternative, as he explains in “Cutting It Close”: “Anyway, life is long (life is so long) / Could be a little longer, don’t get me wrong.” “Sweet Talk” embraces the possibility of “a wonderful life,” going all in while knowing the worst is yet to be (maybe). This approach won’t eliminate the “sucker punching straight into the face”, but it offers hope for something that transcends it. As on so much of Light Verse, though, time poses its own problems, leaving Beam with one worry as he sings, “Pray the moment doesn’t take a life to master.”

That mix of mature realism and lingering hope gives Light Verse its heart. The strings, classy as they are, can be a little much, heightening moments that don’t need it, but they fit the general tenor of the record. In the end, we return to where we were to start, taken in by Beam’s voice and words. It’s initially strange then that the album ends with “Angels Go Home”, an orchestral ode to the eventual death of everything – the retiring of angels, the betrayal of friends, and even the dangers of our mercy. On a deeper level, though, it makes perfect sense. Beam only needs to search for sweetness when it’s hidden. Iron & Wine perseveres in his sort of romanticism not because it’s easy but because it’s impossible.

RATING 7 / 10