The state of today's world being what it is, it's perhaps not altogether surprising that sorrowful, acoustic finger-picking and barely-there vocals are so popular in alternative music circles these days. Sub Pop, in particular, has been extremely proficient in documenting this newest generation of Americana musicians who seem particularly adept at showcasing their post-punk roots. Its most evocative, gravel-voiced artist of this sort is probably Mark Lanegan, who previously sang for a wall-of-sound grunge band known as The Screaming Trees.
Samuel Beam, a Floridian who records for Sub Pop as Iron & Wine, is another such surprise. He hails not from Florida's deep-southern panhandle, but rather Miami, where he works as a cinematography instructor at a local art and design university. He often mentions in interviews that his understanding of film pacing helps him write music, but I wonder if he hasn't been subconsciously writing the soundtrack to a celluloid masterpiece that's knocking around somewhere inside his head. The five songs on Beam's second album, The Sea & the Rhythm, may not be cinematic per se -- the lyrics are too confusing and unclear for that -- but like the very best of the silver screen, they do transport the listener to a specific emotional place.
But this is quiet, hushed banjo music, so for some that emotion might be sadness, and for others, serenity. Iron & Wine's nearest musical peer is probably the late Nick Drake, however, and with their aura of somber melancholy, Beam's songs quite often slip into depression territory. The Sea & the Rhythm, undoubtedly, would make a beautiful movie soundtrack. I'm just not certain that anyone's psyche -- what with the state of today's world, and all -- could handle watching the film.