Iron & Wine: The Sounds of the Seasons

Brendan Byrne ‘22

Iron & Wine are two things that you’d hardly think go together, but how every aspect of this individual’s music comes together is immaculate. With the identity of an indie-folk musician, Sam Beam has created a reputation in this niche music community for his beautifully poetic songwriting, atmospheric and stunning musical composition, and a soothing, comforting singing voice that sounds like the whispers of some mystical storyteller. As a child, Beam took regular trips to his grandfather’s farm, and spent a lot of time out in the South Carolina countryside, and this is something that can very clearly be seen in the stylings of his music.

It makes you feel the same as being among the beauty of nature, as though you’re wandering through a thickly wooded forest, or breathing deeply in some vast, endless field of green. The feeling of Iron & Wine’s music is what truly makes it stand out, the atmosphere it can portray and the perspective it can place upon you. Something that I have taken note of in his music is every album’s relation to a season, at least through how I’ve experienced them. I’ve seen that each album tends to evoke a feeling that reminds me of some climate, some sort of atmosphere, or even just feels the best being listened to in a particular type of weather. 

Our Endless Numbered Days, one of my personal favorite albums of Iron & Wine, the album through which I discovered them, has an incredibly distinct sound. You may recall my reference to it in a previous article of my writing, “Relaxing Music to Ease Your Quarantine Anxieties”, in which I listed a handful of albums, mostly within the indie-folk genre, that I am still fond of to this day. Thanks to the album’s unique use of instruments like the banjo and the slide guitar, as well as more typical folk instrumentation with acoustic guitars and drums, it manages to transport one to a special scene, one that many may have never even experienced. 

This album represents spring to me entirely. With the season now in full force, and the weather getting ever-warmer as summer rapidly approaches, the feeling of the air around us just seems to match this art. Slide guitar is a big part of Sam Beam’s music production, which adds a lot to the “rural south” stylings in the sound. Slide guitar is most often found in blues music, the technique being simple to understand but difficult to perform effectively.

It consists of using a hard object, usually placed on one’s finger, and sliding it along the strings, up and down, instead of fingering chords. What this does is provide a sound that can even be likened to some haunting human voice, wailing beautiful tunes, and what it has achieved in both blues and Beam’s music is giving a uniquely human effect to the instruments themselves, making everything sound more intimate and full of life. 

The human softness and intimacy of the sounds of Our Endless Numbered Days is part of what makes up the sound of spring. Spring is known as a peaceful season of a softer happiness. It is the kind of joy that sprouts from the roots of the sorrow and darkness of winter, the joy that blossoms like the very flowers of the season, spreading their arms to those in need of someone to hold them. The unique breathiness of Beam’s singing voice throughout the album speaks to the airiness of spring, the light and free feeling known for the change in weather, with the cool and inviting air giving you the desire to explore the world outside your door. 

The album ends on the song Passing Afternoon, in which the album begins to wind down. The song speaks to the many parts of the nostalgia of childhood and the potency of some of life’s most peaceful, kind moments. It talks of these simple times that can so easily be taken for granted, simple moments of love from your mother, of beautiful sleep with the windows open. Most of all, it talks of the seasons themselves, and the immaculate weight that they have in every human life. The song personifies each season, showing them as women living out these beautifully simple, yet infinitely deep moments.

They are portrayed as mothers putting their children to bed, women waking themselves and making the choice to believe in life and beauty. The song is like a sunset as the air becomes cool with night, putting all to rest at the end of a perfect day. The song is like every one of us drifting off to this peaceful sleep with the window cracked, while we meander into dreams of our joys and pleasures, of the beautiful parts of our spring minds.