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Posted on January 12th, 2011 (10:37 pm) by Chad Flanders

Iron & Wine’s songs are studies in delayed gratification. The songs usually don’t have choruses, they don’t even ever really build to any big finale or resounding conclusion. Rather, they simply sustain a melody that slowly wraps around us verse by verse. The strategy is addiction through repetition of sound and words, not through any simply A-B structure.

The classic “Passing Afternoon”, for example, simply tells a story in carefully layered verses; the title isn’t part of some chorus, but only a little piece of a sentence of yet another verse. Even in the famous cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”, which does have a chorus, Iron & Wine manages to make it sound more seamless, leveling out the great heights and making all the song pleasantly mellow. Yet for all that, the songs of Iron & Wine are strangely satisfying, if sometimes a little frustrating. The delaying of gratification itself becomes a kind of gratification.

Of the three songs on this EP -- more delayed gratification! -- only the title track, “Walking Far From Home”, captures beautifully the Iron & Wine sound: sophisticated and slightly philosophical lyrics over a lilting, limping melody. The song talks about walking, but it is not walking anywhere, but meandering slowly in a long circle. There are some odd “whoo-oos” that mar the lead vocals a little bit, and the lyrics aren’t ones you’ll easily memorize and sing along to. But never mind, burn this track.

The second and third songs are less successful. “Summer in Savanah” represents an experiment in going electric and drum-driven, and also in trying to be more of a verse-chorus song. But everything sounds out of sync here. The amping up doesn’t help Iron & Wine much, and the saxophone solo simply leads one to cover one’s ears. When will indie musicians learn that the saxophone is a dangerous weapon, to be used only very very sparingly?

“Biting Your Tail” returns, refreshingly, to the verse-verse-verse non-structure of Iron &Wine’s best. But the song is spoiled slightly by seemingly random gurglings of a synthesizer and the tiny beat of a drum kit. Reverb is included where none was necessary in the first place. For Iron & Wine, less is usually more. Their songs work better stripped down and minimal, leaving us wanting and craving the pay-off which somehow never comes. We end up circling back to the beginning, always.

There’s a cliché about writing that says to make for a good story you have to, above all, make the reader wait. Don’t reveal too much too soon; let the story unfold slowly, make them really care about the characters. Iron & Wine knows this secret -- of making the listener wait, and wait, and wait. The waiting compels us to listen expectantly, wondering what will come next. And it is not disappointing, but pleasing, to hear that what comes next is similar to what came before. As Iron & Wine sings in the last song on this album, “round and round we go,” biting our tails. But somehow, it seems, we’re really getting somewhere.

Track Listing

1. Walking Far From Home
2. Summer in Savannah
3. Biting Your Own Tail

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

62 / 100
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