Iron & Wine, “Our Endless Numbered Days (Deluxe Edition)”

Iron & Wine
Our Endless Numbered Days (Deluxe Edition)
SUB POP
9/10

Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, released in 2002, is that rare double-edged sword of a debut that illuminates its maker’s strengths—but does so in such a definitive manner that the artist later finds its shadow difficult to shake. Cradle barely registers higher than a whisper, but it etched in stone a template of what Iron & Wine records would sound like. Its hushed, bare-bones approach (recorded on a four-track tape recorder at Iron & Wine mastermind Sam Beam’s house) looms large in critical analysis of their music, but the truth is that Beam has spent much of his career—more than he is credited for—nudging that sound beyond its preconceived limits.

The result is a quietly impressive discography that finds Beam retooling his music from record to record in subtle but important ways. The best balance of this remains Our Endless Numbered Days, his second full-length album from 2004. Abandoning the lo-fi aesthetic of its predecessor, Days crackles with Beam’s steadier songwriting and newfound confidence, and compensates for any perceived timidity compared to later works (2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog is probably his high water mark in terms of sheer scope and diversity of sound) simply by housing many of the most elegant, striking songs of his career.

The new reissue of Our Endless Numbered Days unearths a number of early demos. The utility of these demos varies from case to case; some, like “Fever Dream,” are curiosities at best, providing very little insight into the song’s evolution. Others are more interesting; “Teeth in the Grass,” for example, isn’t a radical departure from its finished counterpart, but it sounds about 20 percent drunker on moonshine.

The album itself remains essential. Fifteen years out, revisiting Days is transporting; its individual songs (which sound better than ever, newly remastered) retain their initial power, and their collective effect is like a reverie, vividly colored but somehow elusive.

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