Iron & Wine - Around the Well, Album Review


Iron & Wine
Around The Well


Sub-Pop Records
Out May 19th

[Rating Scale]



Samuel Beam, AKA Iron and Wine, has come a long way since waiting tables back home in Columbia, South Carolina. With a storied background in the arts, music and film, it was only a matter of time before his laid-back folk sound reached more than just his close friends and family.

It’s been almost 8 years since he recorded his cover of Postal Service’s "Such Great Heights," and in that span of time, he has failed to disappoint. Three studio albums, EPs and several singles later, Around the Well finally puts those melodic rarities and B-sides in one place, putting the perfect antidote for those rainy spring days, only an arms length away.

Listening to the complication album is not for the faintest of hearts. On the first single, "Trapeze Swinger," which was originally featured on the soundtrack of In Good Company, Samuel sings longingly, yearning for a past love, recounting memories that he hopes, above all, she remembers. The seven-minute folk ballad, is fittingly the last song on the album, and as you finish up this sullen anthem, you might not be surprised to see yourself experiencing the same feelings evoked after listening to Elliot Smith’s Say Yes or Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.

I’m probably biased in saying that my favorite song off of Around the Well is the cover of "Such Great Heights," not only because it was a great original song but because I don’t think anyone expect it could be covered in such a fashion. Still, after so long, it is still a favorite on so many peoples’ playlists, as Mr. Beam’s guitar and quiet voice, slow down, and humble an originally upbeat, beat driven song. He still, somehow, manages to instill the same feeling of hope, but just makes you do it by stepping back, slowing down, closing your eyes, and taking a deep breath; you can’t help but to find yourself open your eyes with a smile, pushing yourself to take on whatever you set forth to do.

In the end, having listened to the album several times through, track to track, it would be a lie to say that it wasn’t hard to get through all 23 tracks. Filled with mostly shorter, 2 to 3 minute tracks, as expected, it is a lyrically-driven piece as Mr. Beam tries to compile an overall story, using his guitar as a sullen backdrop to highlight the moments of despair and philosophy framed by his smokey voice. It is hard not to feel a little down, it is hard not to feel his pain. But maybe this was his intention? Maybe it was his intention for us to have his songs within reach, when we need comfort in our own time of despair, or hope to find calm during a storm. Maybe it was his intention after all, to have us select his songs as we need them, whether it be in a dim-light café, or as we feel the sun’s warmth on our face, now we won’t have to scrounge around to look for the perfect song to fit our mood – all we’ll need to do is reach Around the Well.

Richard Yoon is contributor here at Pretty Much Amazing. While he's not studying or listening to music, he is blogging over at Music is My Hot Hot Sex.

The Pretty Much Amazing Rating Scale is based on a 100-point system. On the blog only 10 lightbulbs show up, but PMA has a reviews plugin installed that keeps track of all the scores. In the future, I would like to list the highest reviewed albums of the month, or something like that. The system would be able to distinguish a 77/100 album over a 75/100 album (even though they both show 7 and half bulbs).

0-19 points — Terrible, don’t waste the money or hard drive space!
20-29 points — This is just bad! So, so BAD!
30-39 points — Poor
40-49 — Could have been average. Just missed it.
50-54 — Average Record. Not Bad, Not Good.
55-59 — It’s more good than bad
60-69 — This is just OK. Didn’t hate it.
70-74 — Good album!
75-79 — Very good album!
80-84 — Great album! One of the year’s best!
85-89 — Best album of the year!
90-94 — One of the best albums in years!
95-100 — CLASSIC ALBUM! All-time best

This was inspired by the scale Cokemachineglow have set up. It’s a very good way of keeping the ratings even.