Sam Beam sings with the voice of someone who's seen the downside of living and made peace with it. Over the 12 disarmingly simple songs that make up Our Endless Numbered Days, the Iron & Wine singer-songwriter quietly touches on death, love, and their relationship to each other, as if engaging in a casual back-porch conversation. Beam has a lovely lilting voice, a light instrumental touch, and a casual flair for drama. When he slows down to deliver a line like "Light strikes a deal with each coming night," he makes the observation hit with a wallop while barely breaking a whisper.
In another life, Beam works as a screenwriting instructor at a downtown Miami college. In a rare comment on his work, he recently cited the switch from a four-track recorder to a computer as a turning point. But where half of his identity is tied up in 21st-century trappings, the other half looks to centuries past. Beam doesn't so much imitate American folk tradition as bend it to suit his particular voice. Like Will Oldham's early albums as Palace, Iron & Wine gives the impression that a musical species long thought extinct has instead found a way to adapt and thrive in some forgotten corner of the world, even if that world is limited to a bedroom in south Florida.
Music out of time, Our Endless Numbered Days would fit as easily in a pre-modern pastoral as in the post-industrial idyll of a David Gordon Green film; it comes from a place that, however peaceful, hasn't forgotten the troubles of the world. When the lover of "Naked As We Came," one of the album's sweetest songs, sings to her beloved, it's to confirm a lifelong devotion while simultaneously making funeral arrangements. "Passing Afternoon" brings the album to a close and sums it up with images of ships sailing and hands remembering long-lost lovers, making life's slow fade to black sound as vital an experience as all that's come before.