Sam Beam, the voice and songwriter more commonly known as Iron and Wine, has made a significant impact on modern music with his hushed vocals, acoustic instrumentation, and organic, poetic lyrics. So his decision to cover a song by the indie-techno band the Postal Service seems out of left field. But he makes the song his own. So much so that many folks who are fans of both bands are unaware that it is even a cover song at all. So how did he do it? What makes Iron & Wine’Such Great Heights such a great cover?
Beam didn’t try to just recreate the original by mimicking the vocal style and tempo. Instead, he stripped the song to its core. Performing it solo as if he had written it himself on acoustic guitar. The song literally sounds like it could have come from any of his own albums from the iron and wine discography.
On the original Postal Service track, Ben Gibbard’s vocals literally overlap, slightly singing over each line to fit in the lengthy verses. It is a great effect, and it fits with the vibe of the techno approach they were going for. But Iron & Wine’s version slows the tempo to nearly half-time compared to the original. This gives Sam Beam time to breathe between phrases and get the lyrics out. The listener is able to focus on the lyrics in Beam’s quiet delivery. “I am thinking its a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they perfectly align.”
Iron & Wine fans love him for his attention to lyrics and his understated delivery of them. Because he appreciated the song for its great lyrics, he was able to make the song his own and give his fans a new favorite song. Beam’s vocals are recorded incredibly close and at nearly a whisper. And the sentiment of the song is really well delivered in this way. Although, Gibbard’s lyrics are really top-notch in the original recording, it is Iron and Wine’s version that keeps the listener leaning into the speaker and hanging on the words as he slowly lets them go over the ambling guitar part.
The song has eventually made its way to be featured in an M&M’s commercial. And Iron and Wine’s record label Subpop decided to release the song as part of a two disc set of obscure and unreleased tracks called Around the Well.