It’s 41 degrees in the shade on the afternoon when Sam Beam first enters my life. Stooped on a corner in Fortitude Valley, there’s a raucously enthusiastic evangelist attempting to save my soul along with the other fated folk of Brisbane, Australia. As he preaches loudly about paradise and salvation, I get up, and trudge through stifling humidity to find the collective calm of the nearest record store, and the new release by Iron & Wine.
It is not harsh to say that when Our Endless Numbered Days first graced us, it landed with more of a quiet ripple than a rowdy splash. Those well versed in the genre of sound I refer to as ‘Miserable Bastard’ would have been anticipatory, sure; but wider audiences were yet to know the magic that hid beneath it’s surface. Positive reviews affirming it’s emotive, wistful brand of folk served to gradually unfurl it to the masses, and it went on to achieve growing acclaim as the album settled in the hearts of all those who value a few chords and the truth.
With time, the Iron & Wine moniker would morph from representing a simple, quiet man’s lament; to a towering and grandiose affair full of layers. Much like a young sapling takes root through the years and forms sturdy branches, the bones of what the project would eventually mature into were always evident in these early recordings, albeit in an entirely unambitious way.
Flecked with a melancholy that never veered towards stifling, the single Naked As We Came was an immediate standout in a thoughtful collection of songs that traversed the topics of love, existence, religion, and hope. With one of the most beautiful lyrics ever penned regarding a connection which lasts the full term of a couple’s mortal existence, the line “One of us will die inside these arms…” speaks of a commitment and enduring partnership that seems increasingly uncommon in the modern age. Beam’s unadorned vocal only serves to highlight the melody, and his gentle acoustic strumming at the song’s conclusion evokes images of a simpler time, it’s Sunday-best solemness lingering long after you stop listening. The surrounding songs which flesh out the album are no less affecting; and effortlessly formed a coherent and thoughtful record which went on to become an audible escape for many.
15 years on, Iron & Wine’s sophomore release feels no less important a contribution to the indie folk category. A limited edition release from Sub Pop houses extended artwork, a dozen pages of liner notes, and 8 demo versions of tracks from the original listing. On first listen, the previously unreleased demos don’t appear to differ greatly from their final state – but with the appropriate amount of time, and a decent set of headphones, there is much to appreciate about the skeletal nature of these songs.
For the casual fan, a reissue void of new tracks might class as unnecessary profiteering. Anyone who fell under the spell of the original release though is likely to take refuge in the quiet beauty of these offerings; and the reappearance of this record (and subsequent possible exposure to a new generation of listeners) comes at a time when the world desperately needs a reflective moment, and some respite from the mire.
As someone who believes in the redemptive power of good music, much like the fevered preacher who I encountered on that street, I can only tell you what peaceful clarity it has brought me over the past 15 years. The effect of Our Endless Numbered Days on you remains entirely at your disposal – since 2004 it has lived forever poised at the ready to welcome weary hearts, should they choose to let themselves surrender to it’s graceful, composed embrace.
Words by Sarah Moses