S. Carey: All We Grow Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on the new live album All We Grow by S. Carey.
Kyle Matteson (Twitter)
I’ll admit I wasn’t very surprised when I’d heard that Sean Carey (aka S. Carey) was releasing a solo record this fall. The reason being, in the 2+ years that I followed Bon Iver start from a solo project of Justin Vernon’s into a full fledged 3 and then 4-piece live band, it was clear that Sean had plenty of talent musically & vocally to strike out on his own. That said, it’s not always a given that great musical talent equates one to being a strong songwriter, but in the case of S. Carey, I think a bit of the songwriting magic of his friend has rubbed off on him. That’s not to say I absolutely love everything about ‘All We Grow’, as parts of it are a bit too drone-y for my usual tastes, but it’s a very impressive debut nonetheless. Songs like ‘In The Dirt’ and ‘In The Stream’ certainly prove his songwriting chops and have me anxious to hear what he has to offer in the future.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
It doesn’t take long to realize that S. Carey has been in Bon Iver since Justin Vernon recruited a touring band back in 2008. And even less time can be devoted into answering why Vernon thought that he would be a good asset. The classically trained musician is in no way a knockoff of his Eau Claire brethren, but being bred in the same northern chill, the same brand of hushed folk has obviously rubbed off on him over his last few years traveling around as the drummer for Bon Iver. All We Growis Sean Carey’s first offering as a solo artist and with a full tour ahead it will without a doubt transform S. Carey into established folk musician from “one of the other dudes in Bon Iver.” With only guitar, drums, keys and terrific vocals, Carey puts forth a collection a heartfelt folk songs that are a bit loftier, sonically, than that of For Emma.This really is, though, a very delicate record; one that unfolds and lightly cascades. Musically, this album is about as close as you can get to a solo artist crafting and capturing the exact aesthetic they are going for. The arrangements and melodies are wholly Carey’s and he builds around each layer and new instrument beautifully. Repetitive keys and vocal bounces on “We Fell” and the handclaps and drum clicks on “In The Dirt” are ultimately mesmerizing. Listening through the albums numerous times, I couldn’t help but think of the sprawling nature of Volcano Choir’s Unmap – as Carey may have also taken bits of Collections of Colonies of Bees unwinding instrumentation. As far as the “singer-songwriter” category is concerned in 2010, we have finally been exposed to the most unique and original release in All We Grow. And much like the songs he has been performing for the past few years, the tracks on All We Grow will be better suited for a cooler, more desolate climate.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
S. Carey’s All We Grow will definitely appeal to few different types of listener. On one hand highbrow, music school types will doubtlessly recognize and appreciate the level of detail etched into Carey’s intricate, minimalist compositions. On the other, casual listeners will also like the fact that with little to no rough edges, pitches, or color – All We Grow makes for good easy-listening background music. In fact I find it very interesting that Carey name drops Mark Rothko in one of his songs (“Rothko Fields”) since the surrealist artist tends to affect a similar aesthetic – demanding serious artistic contemplation while simultaneously remaining innocuously attractive to the philistine (“ooh, look at the pretty colors!”).
And while I certainly wouldn’t argue with someone for appreciating Carey for the more high-minded reasons, I just find All We Grow a bit too easy to tune out. His tunes tend towards a subtlety that borders on stagnation, an issue that seems to stem largely from Carey’s unwillingness to step outside his comfort range vocally. And it’s a shame because he is obviously a very talented musician as well as a composer. I would be extremely keen to hear what he could do by allowing a little more roughness into his music. As it stands now the utter smoothness of Carey’s sound borders on being bland.
It is never easy to make a “solo” album when you are in a band with a member as talented and magnetic as Justin Vernon. That is the challenge that faces Sean (S.) Carey, previously known as “the guy who drums in Bon Iver,” who more than lives up to the challenge with his debut record All We Grow. The record sounds like a mix of Bon Iver like haunted, ethereal folk and Dosh’s melodic mixing of sputtering drums and keys. A good portion of the album is the kind of dreamscapes that are great accompaniments to long walks on fall days. There are a few moments of clarity, especially the single “In the Dirt,” “Mother” and “We Fell,” where Carey’s pop songwriting chops are shown to be well beyond what I expected. It isn’t often that records surprise you in a good way, but I can say for sure that All We Grow surprised me. I expected a throw away side project, someone riding the waves of their band mate, but instead I got a subtle, gorgeous CD that continues to grow on me with each listen.