S. Carey- Range Of Light 8.0
In 2011, Justin Vernon demonstrated to the world just what a seamless artistic transformation looks like. After his staggering 2008 debut as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon took the isolated woodlands folk that he had refined to such perfection and blew it up to an almost unimaginable scale. On Bon Iver, the grand songwriting, production and soundscapes were executed on such a masterful level that it was hard to believe that Vernon had actually changed at all. It was as if he had this massive band filled with incredibly talented multi-instrumentalists the whole time. Vernon and his band were incredible to watch in live performance. Commanding the material from Bon Iver, and radically reshaping the material from For Emma, Forever Ago, they created a massive cacophony of beautiful sounds that somehow always managed to work together.
A major part of Vernon’s band, and his incredible sonic transformation, is Sean (S.) Carey. The musical director of Bon Iver while on tour, and a drummer/backing vocalist, Carey played a massive role in shaping Bon Iver’s stunning live performances. With a degree in classical percussion performance from the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, Carey has a unique sense of how rhythm not only supports songs, but how it interacts with them. On top of this, there are his gorgeous vocals and his knack for building imposing yet beautiful soundscapes. Range Of Light is Carey’s second solo album, one that finds him relishing in his strengths, the same ones he flaunted with Vernon in Bon Iver’s live shows.
Range Of Light doesn’t have the grade A songwriting of a Bon Iver release, but it absolutely has the sonic landscapes. All nine of these tracks are sonic gems, filled to the brim with perfectly placed instrumental flourishes. Opener “Glass/Film” is perfectly understated, while “Creaking” is an epic that is aware of its own scale, but makes sure to never overwhelm you. Rather than hammering it home, Carey lets the beautiful chord progression of the chorus slowly wash over the listener. As Range Of Light was recorded in Vernon’s own studio, its not surprising that he makes an appearance. The two duet beautifully on “Crown the Pines,” letting their voices swirl gracefully around each other. “Fire-scene” is perhaps the most Bon Iver-esque song on Range of Light, not that that’s bad or anything. With a winding acoustic riff, Carey takes the listener on a journey through a massive, mystical landscape that seems to exist only in his own imagination.
The piano ballads “Radiant” and “Alpenglow” reinforce this we-are-all-so-small mindset. But again, Carey doesn’t let the scale of what he is attempting to convey drown the listener. Carey introduces even the most ornate of his instrumental touches gradually, and with near-perfect poise. While the acoustic numbers “Fleeting Light” and “The Dome” feel a bit long, closer “Neverending Fountain” provides just the right amount of relief. Delicate and quiet, Carey lets the album end quietly, but not without a whimper. Not trying to prove something big, Carey ends the album on a contented note, satisfied with what he has brought to the listener.
S. Carey’s work likely serves a similar purpose to Volcano Choir for Bon Iver fans. Range of Light contains the gorgeous instrumental prowess and amazing soundscapes of Bon Iver’s music, but without the unforgettable songs. Volcano Choir’s Repave, from last year, had the songs, but not so much the soundscapes. But, to take Bon Iver out of the picture for a minute, Range of Light is a truly great effort from an under-appreciated songwriter. While his solo work will likely never step out of the shadow of Bon Iver, Range of Light shows Carey to be perfectly capable of making his own, beautifully innovate music.