In the 15-plus years since Sam Beam released his debut album as Iron & Wine, the singer-songwriter has added layer upon layer to his soft-spoken sound. Once a purveyor of whispered home recordings, Beam began collaborating with other bands and singers — Calexico first, followed later by Jesca Hoop and Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell — and expanding Iron & Wine's increasingly dense approach in order to encompass intricate percussion and blaring horns.
With Beast Epic, Beam and his band go quiet again, scaling back the lavish orchestration while maintaining a sense of brightness and verve. It's an album full of transitions — the singer himself chalks them up to "growing up after you've already grown up," a concept familiar to anyone who's lived long enough to employ the euphemism "midlife" — that appropriately synthesizes several eras of Iron & Wine's music. The result feels clearer of head and heart, and less fatalistic, than Beam has ever sounded. And, in "Call It Dreaming," it takes all of five words for the singer to sum up a truth that's been central to Iron & Wine since the beginning: "Our music's warmer than blood."