This is intimacy on a purely aural level, the ultimate headphones album.
Daniel Ross 2010
As the drummer for the alt-folk success story of the last few years, Bon Iver, Sean Carey (here abbreviated to an initial) has little in his performing career to suggest that he would be capable of making a record so rewarding as this. We perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised, though, looking at his past form. He wasn’t involved in the recording of Bon Iver’s massive For Emma Forever Ago, and was previously a percussionist with a jazz bent and academic musical training. It’s those influences that shine through the whole of All We Grow rather than any rootsy Americana and, far from rendering the whole thing a cold study, they simply inform and improve the hearty material he’s created.
From the outset, Carey works in a contemporary-classical vein, but one informed by soft, simple melodies. Song titles are clipped and elegant, lyrics are broad and lovely. Move, the opener, wheezes softly with clarinets like a mournful church organ and church bells in the distance, before yielding to a plucked acoustic guitar, gentle ambient chords and beautifully balanced vocal harmonies. It’s hardly rocket science, but it is so fully formed that one could happily call it complete.
This completeness runs all the way through All We Grow, and at no point does he simply let one idea rule a song. Carey’s modern compositional influences are worn on his sleeve during We Fell, the Steve Reich-ian piano cells practically falling over each other to support the melody, and evoking the Wisconsin rivers of their gestation. That melody, though, is passed from vocal to piano almost seamlessly, forming an attractive compositional shape that almost subliminally makes the song a delight. Clarinets return notably on In the Dirt, perhaps revealing sympathy for the fullness of the instrument’s sound. It is the perfect accompaniment to these woolly songs of content.
Sonically, it would be easy to lump S. Carey in with any number of songwriters experimenting with dreamy soundscapes and minimalist influences (Sigur Rós spring to mind, as do Shearwater), but All We Grow demonstrates a different sensibility. This is intimacy on a purely aural level, the ultimate headphones album. The intimacy doesn’t come from quietness, but from reactive, well-built and emotive arrangements. Hopefully, S. Carey will have the time to pursue this solo project with the same fervour as his work with Bon Iver: it would be a crime if this were his only album.
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