Beast epic. It might sound fierce and foreboding, but in literature, the beast epic is a satirical cycle of poetry involving animal protagonists. Think Aesop's fables or George Orwell's "Animal Farm" but less moralistic and written in verse, not prose.
For some reason, the literary term spoke to Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, who titled his new album "Beast Epic."
"I just liked the sound of it. It felt like it was a talking story about a bad person and also a fragile person ... There's a lot of different narrators, and I like things that have layers of meaning," Beam told me over the phone last month, explaining some of the many reasons he chose the title.
Literature, in diverse forms, is central to Beam's output.
"I’ve worked on lots of screenplays, trying to adapt some books ... I never studied music, but I did go to art school and film school," Beam said.
Iron & Wine have gone through a number of transitions over the years, from the early, hushed four-track recordings of "The Creek Drank the Cradle" to the later, jazz- and R&B-influenced "Ghost on Ghost," but "Beast Epic" finds its correlate somewhere between the two -- yet, without the self-described "anxious tension" of "The Shepherd's Dog" and "Kiss Each Other Clean." The production is minimal but polished, and the songs are confidently relaxed.
"It was nice when I realized that it felt a bit more familiar," Beam explained. "It seemed appropriate for the songs. They seemed like they wanted to be dressed that way."
While much of the new album is concerned with age and the passing of time, it doesn't seem to affect Beam too much on a personal level.
"I don’t think about it a whole lot. When I sit down to write songs, that’s just where my mind goes. You start to think about the value of moments, and any time you start to deal with narrative stories, you start to become obsessed with timelines," he said.
"I don’t think I obsess about the brevity of time any more than anyone else. I’m actually trying to be really present, just trying to enjoy the moment and not get too wrapped up in what I have next. I’m always working," Beam added.
Iron & Wine headline Balboa Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 28. Get tickets here.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford poet-neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. Whoops. He now fronts the Lulls, plays lead guitar in LA band Velvet and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Instagram and Twitter (@RArosenborg), add him on Facebook or contact him directly.