Iron & Wine, “Beast Epic” would be an awesome band and album name for some brütal metal band. But no, as you would probably tell from the cover art, this is a pleasant folk album from singer-songwriter Sam Beam. To my surprise, this album took me quite a few listens before I was comfortable enough to give it a review. At first listen it seemed like a competently recorded and written folk album, but I kept listening and waiting for either everything to click and for me to love it or for it to reveal itself as a distinctly average project.
Some things were evident from the first listen. Sam Beam’s gentle but strong voice shines from track to track, gliding smoothly over the whole album like butter. The acoustic guitar on “Beast Epic” has a wonderful tone, in fact all of the instrumentation does. Further listening also teased out a handful of great songs that quickly became my highlights on the record.
“Bitter Truth” is an awesome folk track with a sweet vocal melody that will stick in your head. The pitter-pattering drums give the song a very dance-able rhythm and the descending and ascending guitar throughout match beautifully with the vocals. It’s just a lovely song that flows together with ease. “About a Bruise” is another favorite song of mine from the album with a fun rhythm and a lot of little details giving the song lots of texture. Once again, this song has a strong melody and some great lyrics. I’ll also mention “The Truest Stars We Know” because it is a gentle and beautiful song and I live for the bridge of the song where Sam sings “Jesus and his trophy wives”.
However, 3 songs do not make an album, so what’s going on with the other 8 on “Beast Epic”? While I’m listening to the rest of these songs, I’m getting that they are pleasant and there is certainly nothing offending my ears, but that’s not saying much. To say the rest of the album is boring would be too harsh, I only wish there were more dynamics at play. There is no doubt that the instruments are great and the recording quality is fantastic, but for me there are not many memorable melodies or song structures on the record. The album breezes by as a result since for the majority of it I feel like I’m waiting for something memorable to happen.
I keep coming back to the word “pleasant” when I think of “Beast Epic”. It’s not a great album, but it is nice and sometimes I would even say it’s good. For any fan of indie music or folk music, I think it’s worth it to at least give this a few listens as I have no doubt a lot of people will like it more than me.