beast epic. n. 1. A long, usually allegorical verse narrative in which the characters are animals with human feelings and motives. 2. A Grammy-nominated album by the band Iron & Wine.
Beast Epic is the sixth proper full-length record from Iron & Wine and was released (Aug 2017) after a four-year gap to critical acclaim. The album was nominated for Best Americana record at the 2018 Grammy Awards and was included on many year-end lists.
Iron & Wine is the musical project of singer-songwriter Sam Beam. Born in South Carolina and currently residing in North Carolina, the former film professor got his start making home recordings before landing on venerable Sub Pop Records. The 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle vaulted Iron & Wine into the spotlight of the burgeoning indie-folk/Americana scene where over the years he developed into one of its prolific songwriters.
Beast Epic’s eleven tracks take the listener on a ride thru the 15+ year history of Iron & Wine while still offering up a new and contemporary sound. The journey to this point is maybe best described by Sam Beam himself in the below artist statement.
“I must confess that I’ve always shied away from album introductions citing the usual ‘dancing to architecture’ cop out. Speaking to their own work is uncomfortable for many artists, but I’ve made a new album called Beast Epic which is important to me and I wanted to take a moment to talk about why. I’ve been releasing music for about fifteen years now and I feel very blessed to have put out five other full lengths, many EPs and singles, a few collaborations with people much more talented than myself, and made contributions to numerous movie scores and soundtracks. This is my sixth collection of new Iron & Wine material and I’m happy to say that it’s my fourth for Sub Pop Records.
It’s a warm and serendipitous time to be reuniting with my Seattle friends because I feel there’s a certain kinship between this new collection of songs and my earliest material, which Sub Pop was kind enough to release. In hindsight, both The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) and Our Endless Numbered Days (2004) epitomize a reflective and confessional songwriting style (although done with my own ferocious commitment to understatement, of course). I have been and always will be fascinated by the way time asserts itself on our bodies and our hearts. The ferris wheel keeps spinning and we’re constantly approaching, leaving or returning to something totally unexpected or startlingly familiar. The rite of passage is an image I’ve returned to often because I feel we’re all constantly in some stage of transition. Beast Epic is saturated with this idea but in a different way simply because each time I return to the theme, I’ve collected new experiences to draw from. Where the older songs painted a picture of youth moving wide-eyed into adulthood’s violent pleasures and disappointments, this collection speaks to the beauty and pain of growing up after you’ve already grown up. For me, that experience has been more generous in its gifts and darker in its tragedies.
The sound of Beast Epic harks back to previous work, in a way, as well. By employing the old discipline of recording everything live and doing minimal overdubbing, I feel like it wears both its achievements and its imperfections on its sleeve. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different genres, sonics and songwriting styles and all that traveled distance is evident in the feel and the arrangements here, but the muscles seemed to have relaxed and been allowed to effortlessly do what they do best.
I’ve been fortunate to get to play with some very talented musicians over the years who are both uniquely intuitive and also expressive in exciting ways. This group was no different. We spent about two weeks recording and mixing but mostly laughing at The Loft in Chicago.
To be honest, I’ve named this record BEAST EPIC mostly because it sounds really cool! However, with that said and perhaps to be completely honest, ‘a story where animals talk and act like people’ sounds like the perfect description for the life of any of us. If not that, then it’s at least perfect for any group of songs I’ve ever tried to make. I hope you enjoy it.” — Sam Beam, Iron & Wine