An indie-rock eon’s worth of development
After almost 15 years, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico are reunited on their new collaborative album Years to Burn. The musicians first formed a connection in 2005 on their collective EP In The Reins, which introduced both acts to a greater audience and forged their careers. While the artists’ paths differed, the bond formed from touring kept them in touch about collaborative opportunities throughout the years. Years to Burn is the result of years of musical growth and experience, and the miraculous alignment of schedules. In order to embrace a new approach to music making, the artists recorded at the Sound Emporium in Nashville under sound engineer Matt Ross-Sprang. With the help of Paul Niehaus, Calexico trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela and Beam’s frequent comrades Rob Burger on piano and Sebastian Steinberg on bass, they created the new 8 track album.
The album brings the best of both acts by utilizing the intimate acoustic sound of Beam and combining it with the multitude of stylistic experience of Calexico. Beam is featured as the primary songwriter on the album with 5 tracks, and the lead vocalist. However, in contrast to their last collaborative work where Beam composed all the songs on the EP, Burns added a song himself. Their individual approaches to music composition follow suit to the contrasting synergy of their music making process. The traditional roles of the musicians on the 2005 EP are shaken up drastically to reveal a more developed and flavorful style of musicianship. Songs like “Father Mountain” and “Midnight Sun” add the pleasing hook of Beam’s songwriting with the complex and intricate edge that is the musical styles of Calexico.
The most capturing and radical track on the album, “The Bitter Suite,” epitomizes the collaborative process of sharing and developing musical style. The song features many different voicings of the collaboration while playing with the styles of Latin America and jazz-folk explored by Calexico and Iron & Wine respectively. The track opens up with trumpeter Valenzuela singing a dreamy Spanish interlude against acoustic guitar strum based on Beam’s lyrics “exploring dreams wild enough to pass the time.” The melody fades seamlessly into a darker acoustic guitar sound of instrumentation which builds to a more consistent rhythm and darker texture. Through the gradual building of complexity, the sound starts to layer into a tornado of instrumentation surrounding the listener. Starting with the very title, Beam, Burns and Convertino create an elusive album that leaves taste and interpretation to the listener. The ambiguity of the title Years to Burn is purposeful in regards to how an approach to life may be framed. Life is simultaneously complicated and simple, and so is this album.