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Reviews

S. Carey
Range Of Light Daniel Ross , April 2nd, 2014 10:33

Sean Carey's first album, 2010's All We Grow, was a terrific headphones album. To use an overused adjective, it was completely intimate, but in a way that goes beyond simply baring one's soul in verse. In short, Carey is capable of a musical frankness rather than an emotional one. With instruments closely mic'd, Carey's voice barely rises above a whisper. His Bon Iver bandmate Justin Vernon (Carey is the band's drummer and contributed countless vocal harmonies to their second LP) told me once in an interview that it "got me through some shit."

Basically, it's safe to say that Carey is in possession of a rare gift to provoke purely gut-warming acceptance from listeners. But his music, both on that first album and on his second, Range Of Light, seems so simple, so antithetical to something so complex as a deep emotional response.

While Range Of Light doesn't expand hugely on his previous work (it would appear that a more synthetic escapade of an EP, 2012's Hoyas, was a bit of a red herring), Carey does step more confidently into the guise of an actual singer, not just making the sound of someone singing. Scant but important lyrical reference to his recent fatherhood and to the early stages of his relationship with his wife are as focused as his poetry gets, but among such spare backing it's far more pronounced. Tipping a hat to these more human emotional elements are some corresponding human musical elements: harp plucked with callused fingers and wailing strains of steel guitar skim across the whole record, which also benefits from Carey's layered choral vocals as an omnipresent backdrop.

'Alpenglow''s Explosions In The Sky-esque guitars and the keening glockenspiel of 'Glass/Film' show Carey to be a supremely sensitive arranger, whether his songs take folk ballad form or veer towards displaying a certain influence from Steve Reich. Though he's a schooled composer in the proper sense (he holds a degree in classical percussion performance), Carey has dialed down the more 'composerly' impulses of All We Grow, turning more and more to the fauna of his surroundings for inspiration. It's perhaps unsurprising that his Instagram account is chock-full of pictures of him fishing in wild landscapes, his hands grasping brown trout, preternaturally tranquil sunsets or snow melting into legion droplets on glass panes.

Range Of Light is very much an indulgence to listen to, in that it requires no thought. That's not meant as a criticism, more that this is merely a collection of beautiful sounds. There's nothing harsh at at all which, rightly, might raise questions about the validity of beauty when there's nothing ugly to balance it, but it really doesn't seem like a big deal here. Lines that would sound like full and complete clangers from lesser artists ("I know my heart better than you may think," and "I was wondering if you'd be my wife," stick out) are rendered completely palatable, even lovely, just by dint of Carey's ability to conjure sweetness from absolutely anything.

The intimacy of his earlier recordings is not lost: far from it, in fact. The purely aural aspects of his intimacy remain completely intact, another perfected headphone aesthetic, but when it comes to the rather more difficult task of conveying human content, Carey has rolled his trouser legs up and waded out to knee-height. Label it wimpy escapism at your peril: he knows exactly what he's doing.

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