In his sixth studio album, “Beast Epic,” Sam Beam, who performs under the moniker Iron & Wine, bares it all. Known for his cover of The Great Postal Services’ “Such Great Heights,” Beam returns to his original, intimate lo-fi level that puts the listener right in the room with him with stories of love, life, and loss. Passionate lyrics carry the listener through a perpetual coming of age story — one that seemingly never ends and only gets more difficult with each verse.
Iron & Wine’s last two albums, produced by the commercial-focused Warner Bros., featured high production and inclusion of complex instrumentation with treated vocals. “Beast Epic” is the official return to Sub Pop, Beam’s original label. One sees evidence of the reversion in the simplicity of many tracks, which allow his narrative to take focus, rather than instrumentals, which are better at expressing emotions. Although the album’s title and cover art suggest a masking of emotions through the facade of animals, Beam doesn’t hold back when it comes to sharing his struggles in navigating adulthood.
There is something about “Beast Epic” that despite solemn lyrics, still sounds uplifting. Beam’s sweet voice sings with the acoustic guitar and often features a violin and cello in the background. The contrasting instrumentation with lyrics fits with the Beam’s telling of adulthood–although difficult, he is still happy in the end.
The fourth track, “Song in Stone,” encompasses the heavy religious themes of “Best Epic.” “Song in Stone” is engulfed with biblical references beginning with the title. Stones serve as reminders of the builder’s struggles in the Bible (see: Joshua 4:20.) This particular song suggests a sense of being lost in life, embracing religion to lead the way with lyrics like “Let the hands of the wrong prophets heal me all they should/Let the wine of the poison Jesus says tastes good.” The theme of being lost in life relates to the entirety of “Beast Epic” as Beam attempts to depict the hardships of adulthood.
Despite growing up in the Bible Belt and his heavy use of biblical references, Beam self-identifies as agnostic. Throughout the album, lyrics depict spiritual imagery, much as Beam did in his 2007 album, “Shepherd’s Dog.” Beam justifies agnostic religiosity in an article with Relevant Magazine, as he states the Bible is an easy and universal reference for people.
There is something much bigger than biblical references in “Beast Epic,” though. In many tracks, such as “Call it Dreaming,” “About a Bruise,” and “Right for Sky,” Beam breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges that these are simply songs. In track seven, “About a Bruise,” he sings, “Now you’re making music for beautiful people by the sea/Who don’t need a song, need a song.” Beam’s self-awareness makes “Beast Epic” such a relatable album.
Beam acknowledges that he, and maybe the listener as well, still needs a song to relate to. The raw lyrics contribute to the broken down, acoustic, no-time-for-frills theme of the world Beam creates. Although taking a lighter approach and a more uplifting tone than previous works, Beam never fails to bring his listeners into a one-size-fits-all story that everyone can see themselves in.