Iron & Wine, with Holopaw
The two albums sturdily bearded Floridian film professor Sam Beam has released as Iron & Wine -- 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle and the new Our Endless Numbered Days -- are the kind perfect for putting on when you've just performed some sacred ancient ritual in the woods and returned home to find your fur-clad lover carefully roasting a free-range rabbit on a spit in the fireplace. This is a rare quality, and one especially valuable in our age of slickster politicians, laser-guided missiles and Jackson-family nipple armor.
Yet what's remarkable about Beam's music -- I mean beyond its evocation of fur-clad lovers -- is that it doesn't sound like a retreat from our harsh world: Endless-but-hardly-endless songs like the gently hypnotic "Cinder and Smoke," which unflinchingly observes snakes in basements and mud-covered dogs in garden rows, don't burrow into a revisionist history replete with cozy log cabins and hearthside acoustic-guitar strumming; instead, like the filmmaker that he is, Beam lines his songs with seamy, haunting details you'll be surprised to find beneath such a lovely surface. Live, the effect is akin to gathering around a sturdily bearded storyteller in the middle of the woods.
Opener Holopaw -- a clean-shaven Floridian outfit centered on singer-songwriter John Orth, himself a member of Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock's Ugly Casanova project -- doesn't quite muster an atmosphere as pungent as Beam's, but the group's self-titled debut from last year does trick out mushmouthed alt-country ramblings with bright-eyed brass bleats and digital doodles in a somewhat nifty way. Call it revisionist futurism if you like.
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