Iron and Wine

'Kiss Each Other Clean'

(Warner Bros.)

Grade: A

Iron and Wine began as a solo project of (now) Austin-area singer/songwriter Sam Beam about a decade back, when he made his mark with bare-boned, often heartbreaking material with a Southern Gothic tinge. Since then, he has proven himself more than capable of evolving, holding on to the impressionistic grief at the core of his songs while adding new sounds, including rock and more psychedelic components.

He also has added more bodies, a rotating cast of musicians including Calexico, with whom he recorded the 2005 EP "In The Reins" (if you're a fan and not familiar with this album, download "History of Lovers" now). Perhaps even more so than the studio work, his live, full-band treatments of the older material, including a memorable appearance at the 2006 Austin City Limits Festival, have helped keep Beam's music feeling fresh.

With "Kiss Each Other Clean," the follow-up to the well-received 2007 album "The Shepherd's Dog," Beam has managed to bottle some of the charm of his live outings, offering up what amounts to an Iron and Wine band album, and a very good one at that. Merging his folk roots with a loose rock and funk feel, Beam takes the opportunity here to build on his unique style, creating a product that is consistent with his other work without sounding stale.

Though Beam's songs typically involve a series of strung-together images, "Kiss Each Other Clean" has a vaguely narrative feel to it, with the wandering first track, "Walking Far From Home," acting as a sort of prelude. After that, the album heads in a variety of directions, with the laid-back groove of "Me and Lazarus" giving way to the feel-good Fleetwood Mac rock of "Tree by the River."

While a couple tracks, including the pleasant-sounding "Half Moon," might not represent a radical departure, there are a few moments when the band takes some risks, most of which pay off. "Big Burned Hand" is a sort of jam-band daydream, where a saxophone trades licks with an organ and some synthesizers. Similarly, on the final song on the album, "Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me," horns bounce around atop driving '70s rock for a good three minutes before giving way to an epic second movement more akin to Beam's "The Trapeze Swinger." It all might sound like a bit much, but it works as a sort of antidote to the minimalist trajectory a lot of music has taken as of late.

- Peter Mongillo

Iron and Wine doesn't have any immediate tour dates in Austin, but Sam Beam said on KUT last week that they'll be back for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September.

One Hundred Flowers

'Mechanical Bride'

Lead Flower Harrison Speck makes big-bore pop music - stacks of guitars, keyboards, bass, strings, brass and woodwinds are neatly arranged in a big pile, like a bonfire ready to ignite. Songs rev up ("These Gears," "Three Dresses") and careen around before coming back to earth or build up steadily ("Rat Trap"). "You Really Must Accept" is lush power pop in the manner of, say, the New Pornographers, in no way a bad thing. But the band really shines (or is that Shins?) on the excellent closer "Shadow Show." "We're always finding all of our own mistakes," Speck sings. This smartly realized album sure isn't one of them.

­- Joe Gross

Candi and the Strangers

'10th of Always'

With gauzy, ethereal vocals flowing effortlessly over lush soundscapes textured with pulsating organs, vibraphone chimes and ample fuzz, Candi and the Strangers' debut disc "10th of Always" (out Feb. 8) shimmers with a widely accessible cinematic arch. As soundtrack music, languid, dreamy tracks like "Femme Sonique," "Velvet" and "Glide" engulf the listener in a swirl of sound. Alternately, upbeat tracks such as "Still a Star," "I Am a Radio" and the excellent title track bubble with hope, offering a salve to the lovelorn, a balm for general malaise. These are songs to help you lose yourself, whether in the fantasy of some millennial remake of a John Hughes film or an average boozy Saturday night at the Mohawk.

­- Deborah Sengupta Stith

Adam Ahrens

'Prize Fight'

Ahrens' wobbly tunes parallel his skill at Hawaiian slack key guitar, especially on album opening title track. Bobby Russell's "Little Green Apples," covered by everyone from O.C. Smith to Frank Sinatra to Burl Ives, gets a pleasant acoustic workout here. Elsewhere, Ennio Morricone's "Farewell to Cheyenne" turns both minimalist and slightly constrained - what was once widescreen turns smaller. Also, the vintage funk on "Sylvia and the Coyotero" might not have been the best idea. But for most of "Prize Fight," blipping beats and atmospheric drift mix with Ahrens' guitar and his expressive-yet-deadpan voice, which recalls such indie luminaries as Bill Callahan and David Berman.

- J.G.

Ahrens plays at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cactus Cafe ($8; www.cactuscafe.org ).

Oh No Oh My

'People Problems'

Don't let Austin-based indie pop purveyors Daniel Hoxmeier, Joel Calvin, Greg Barkley and Tim Regan, aka Oh No Oh My, fool you with their bouncy, layered songs or polite, balanced vocals. Because just when you start to tap your foot and think, "This is nice," they'll drop a line like "happiness is dead," or a whole song about murdering someone ("So I Took You"). Though that might sound a bit gimmicky, it's not. On their latest, "People Problems," the split personality is one part of an effort that is, for the most part, a very well-crafted piece of music. Melody is king here. Despite the sometimes-hard-to-swallow content, these are very hummable songs, made even better by carefully placed flourishes of strings and other Beatles-like touches.

- P.M.