S. Carey goes more abstract, languid on sophomore LP
C

S. Carey goes more abstract, languid on sophomore LP

C

S. Carey

Album: Range Of Light
Label: Jagjaguwar
C

S. Carey

Album: Range Of Light
Label: Jagjaguwar

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S. Carey may be best known for his work with Bon Iver, but since the release of the band’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, he’s crafted his own singular aesthetic across a handful of solo releases. Carey’s first record, All You Grow, and the follow-up EP, Hoyas, were beautifully layered records that privileged sound design over rigid song construction, blending freeform jazz with the tones of Americana. His latest album, Range Of Light, offers up similar sounds but with even less structure and cohesion, resulting in a lifeless, disoriented collection of songs.

With Carey’s voice often buried in the background, his lyrics indecipherable, much of the material that makes up Range Of Light feels cold and distant, putting the listener at an arm’s length, struggling to find something to connect to. A bevy of instruments, from acoustic guitars to woodwinds, strings, and piano, wander in and out of each arrangement, but few offer up an engaging hook or melody. There are intriguing elements within each song—on “Glass/Film” Carey incorporates saxophone, chimes, and marimba alongside sparse electronic drums—but each track follows a similar pattern, moving from a barebones intro and adding layer after layer of instrumentation until reaching a cacophonous crescendo. As a result, Range Of Light never amounts to more than a haphazard collection of half-formed, repetitive ideas, with Carey indulging every single whim that strikes him.

The few standout moments on the album use the woven instrumental soundscapes to mirror Carey’s lyrical exploration of the power of memory and nostalgia. He builds “Alpenglow” and the album’s other highlight, “The Dome,” as if constructing a memory from one’s past. Both tracks begin with disjointed pieces that slowly fuse together, like a partial memory that eventually morphs into a complete vision when the right synapse finally fires in our brain. “Alpenglow,” which refers to the reddening optical effect caused by the sun being just below the horizon, takes fragments of piano, violin, and electric guitar and synthesizes them into a tapestry of light and dark tones, while “The Dome” uses both slide and plucked acoustic guitar to build a pastoral, pensive atmosphere. These two tracks are outliers, though, emotionally and sonically devastating songs on an otherwise languid and forgettable record.

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