“The earth has its music for those who will listen” – Reginald Vincent Holmes
37 Minutes. Jagjaguwar Records. $9.99
“Who the hell is S. Carey?” is what I imagine most people are thinking right now. Answer: S. Carey is moniker of Sean Carey, the drummer of Bon Iver.
“Bon Iver? What the fuck man? We put up with one non-mainstream album review [the Ezra Furman review]! Go back to giving tongue lashings to pop music!”
Patience, my child. I will go back to mainstream music after the following sermon.
When we think of modern acoustic music we tend to think of singers such as Iron and Wine, This Wild Life, and that guy that performs in the Hynes Convention Center T-Stop (keep on strumming, man). Often country music gets miscategorized and placed on the shelf with the bearded neo-beatniks mentioned above.
Nowadays with all our technology, acoustic music is almost an unnecessary nostalgic extravagance like vinyl or hemp jackets. Most of the defenders of acoustic music are the filter-less American Spirit smoking, sweetgreen eating granola hippies. These are the descendants of Rousseau. They believe society has corrupted man and thus we must return to nature through acoustic music, not shaving, and living out in the woods like good ole Thoreau.
Their adversaries are the Juul smoking, Starbucks chemistry experiment addicted, urban Social Darwinists. (For all the negative adjectives used in that last sentence, I must admit that I am more like this crowd than the former natural crowd.) They believe society has given man the opportunities to thrive and thus he should take advantage of the New and the Now. They are the descendants of the often misquoted, French gadfly Voltaire. Their mantra is “Get with the times!” They can be called pop music sheeple because as long as it’s new, it’s good.
Both of these groups have valid points: Farming and living in a cabin in the middle of the woods is healthier. But at the same time the woods are inhabited by animals that want to eat you, serial killers that want to kill you; and are governed by the laws of nature, which don’t give a fuck about you. Living in a city puts you in contact with the great products of human civilization. But also you end up having to justify the noise, claustrophobia, and anxiety: “Our new flat in Brooklyn is sooo cute. It’s 5 feet by 7 feet and when have only 17 roommates! There isn’t a bathroom but there is a Hungarian-Japanese fusion coffee shop downstairs that has Albino Queer Trotskyist Poetry Slams from 1:00 AM to 4:30 AM on 7 days a week! We love it here and it’s totally worth the $14,000/month!”
So by now you are probably wondering, “Alright asshole we weren’t cool with the whole non-mainstream music thing to begin with and now you had to embark on a digression about philosophy, I think…get on with the review!”
Don’t worry, sports fans. We have arrived at the review.
So what do these two groups (the organic naturalists and the processed city dwellers) have in common? They will both hate S. Carey’s new album, “Hundred Acres.”
S. Carey is a genuine free thinker when it comes to the Rousseau vs. Voltaire debate. He sees the best of both arguments. You can be a nature loving acoustic musician but you can’t exist without technology. And the way he uses technology is impressive, it’s auxiliary and complementing rather than oppressive like EDM.
Songs such as “Emery”- which is the closest thing to a religious experience this devout atheist can have begins- with a church organ and descends into a surround sound symphonic masterpiece that tests the limits of how many sounds you can listen to at once without being overwhelmed, and “Hundred Acres” which show off that S. Carey can hit high notes and not distract from the relaxing rises and falls of the violins, are both songs that show off this fusion of both studio-produced music and organic talent.
The worst parts of the album are when S. Carey gets scared that he is descending too far into one camp. “Hideout” should be a great song but the use of early 20th century Appalachian guitar finger-picking distracts from the orchestrated feel of the song.
For the most part, S. Carey doesn’t really sing but instead sighs. A lot. While one of the tricks he does employ in songs such as “Yellowstone” is to layer his already lo-fi vocals to sound like there is more than one person singing. (This effect is mastered in “Emery” when S.Carey chops ups the vocals and makes the lyrics sound like a conversation instead of a ballad.) This effect causes you to actually care less about the lyrics and care more about the sound. There is an occasional loss of emotion in his voice which is fine in “True North” where the lyrics,
“And we’ll build a home on the overlook
And we came back a circle
And let the black night point us north”
are emotionally ambiguous.
Is this a memory or is this an ode? Lyrical interpretation almost always ends in the interjection: Who cares! The mood the song emits through the vocals, soft drum hits, and light guitar notes can create both moods. You can feel like you are walking down a snowy path at night all alone or you can feel like you are running hand and hand with your love down a forest path.
“More I See” and “Rose Petals” both are more mood placement songs. They trigger memories with their acoustic loops. They remind you of warm afternoons spent people watching in cafes or taking long walks down streets lined with green trees that dance with the breeze.
The final song on the album “Meadow Song” is proof that S.Carey is both a nature lover and a melancholic, but proud city dweller. You can see him on a peak staring at nature, writing poetry in his little weather moleskin notebook:
“You can stay, you can stay
I wandered off but found the way
And all these cliffs surrounding me
The holes are patched in thanks in part to you.”
He sees the past in nature but knows he has to return to the present in civilization. The album cover alone draws in both the urban aesthete and the vegan camper. They both think, “It would nice to sit out there and relax for a little while.” Maybe we have to find the location of the picture and have the two factions meet there and pass around a few joints. Maybe we will bring about peace on Earth with this get-together. I would settle for just a happy singalong.
In sum, S. Carey isn’t a mere tourist or exploiter nature (*cough* Irv Teibel’s “Environments” *cough*) or a country boy living in the big city (for an example of this type of music see “Murder in the City” by the Avett Brothers) but rather a freethinking traveler with a magnet for a brain, that absorbs everything in hope of one day translating it into music for us.