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There’s no pinning down Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam

  • This March 14, 2013 file photo shows Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, file)

    This March 14, 2013 file photo shows Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, file)

  • This March 14, 2013 file photo shows Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, file)

    This March 14, 2013 file photo shows Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, file)

  • FILE - This July 28, 2012 file photo shows Sam Beam performing with Iron & Wine at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in.  (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, file)

    FILE - This July 28, 2012 file photo shows Sam Beam performing with Iron & Wine at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, file)

  • FILE - This July 28, 2012 file photo shows Sam Beam performing with Iron & Wine at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in.  (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, file)

    FILE - This July 28, 2012 file photo shows Sam Beam performing with Iron & Wine at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, file)

  • This March 14, 2013 file photo shows Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, file)
  • This March 14, 2013 file photo shows Sam Beam, of Iron & Wine, during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, file)
  • FILE - This July 28, 2012 file photo shows Sam Beam performing with Iron & Wine at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in.  (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, file)
  • FILE - This July 28, 2012 file photo shows Sam Beam performing with Iron & Wine at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. "Ghost on Ghost," the 38-year-old's fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in.  (AP Photo/Joe Giblin, file)

Sam Beam of Iron & Wine makes music for people who listen with headphones.

Sure, you could check out his music on a computer or pop his CD into your car stereo. But you’d be missing so much.

“I like as a listener to find some little percussive elements or some little throwaway melodies in there that you only really catch if you’re listening on the headphones,” Beam said.

“It’s also fun in the mixing stage to do stuff like that. It creates an extra level of interest hopefully.”

Beam has achieved an extra level of interest in his music by creating dense sound collages that dance and move like fabric in the wind, yet remain true to the wandering spirit he unveiled while using an acoustic guitar and a four-track recorder to learn the craft.

Ghost on Ghost, the 38-year-old’s fifth album as Iron & Wine, is his most complex yet, blooming with large arrangements and tiny flourishes so complex they little resemble that spare early sound that forced the listener to lean in.

Over time he added producer Brian Deck, gradually included percussion and more complex instrumentation, strings and horns until he’s arrived at something he shares with his wife and five young daughters outside Austin, Texas.

“I think that’s kind of short-sighted, and it’s not very fun to do. I come from a visual arts background. I went to an art school and you learn very quickly there that you’re only as good as your next idea, not so much what you’ve got going on at the moment. And so I embraced that,” he said.

Like many artists who are hard to pin down, critics found Beam exciting and they’ve been talking him up since 2002 when he released The Creek Drank the Cradle. Unlike most of those unpredictable artists, Beam also found an audience that doesn’t seem to mind.

Each album has gotten progressively more popular and the last, 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 all-genre album chart.

Ghost on Ghost is even more ambitious with large melodies and arrangements made up of dozens of moving parts. Those with headphones jacked will find a jazzy breakdown in opener “Caught in the Briars,” a mouth harp that serves incongruously as a bouncy counterpoint to a smoky saxophone on “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” a menacing B3 Hammond organ line lurking underneath the chorus on “Singers and the Endless Song” and the strange call-and-response chorus hidden in the grandeur of “Lovers’ Revolution,” a gang of street toughs ready to spill out of an alley.

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