There’s a certain voyeuristic thrill in discovering music that was never meant to be heard. So it was when Sub Pop released Iron & Wine’s first album, The Creek Drank The Cradle, 18 months ago. A bunch of four-track demos made in the Miami home of the band’s sole member, Sam Beam, these picturesque tales of life in the South had to be teased from him by the label. Beam’s songs were too colourful to be confessional, but the soft intimacy of the recordings and the precise imagery of his lyrics still made the listener feel intrusive, illicit even.
Our Endless Numbered Days is Beam’s first ‘proper’ record. It was recorded largely in a studio rather than his front room, with a band who fill the gaps between his strums and lulling vocals. But the close, secretive atmosphere remains. It’s easy to see Beam as a Southern gothic fabulist with his songs of torched farmyards, junebugs and bougainvillea blooms, bodies in the grass and ravens in the corn. But he delivers them with such understated sensitivity that even a blues sung from the perspective of a condemned man (“Free Until They Cut Me Down”) avoids the hokeyness so common to the genre.
Beam is a master of circumnavigating clich