S. Carey - Range of Light

S. Carey’s second album is an airy, escapist soundtrack to nature that lacks the throttle for complete, undivided attention.

Additional Info

7.4

ALBUM: Range of Light

ARTIST: S. Carey

2014

Alternative

Sean Carey may be most recognized for his affiliation with the indie super-group Bon Iver, but under the moniker, S. Carey, he’s developed a solo act that’s both aesthetically similar to the earthy and meditative sound found in Bon Iver and unique to his own musical sensibilities. S. Carey’s second full-length album, Range of Light, is an ambient, moody, palimpsestic set of nine tracks informed by the natural world. The theme of nature may be initially and explicitly suggested through the album’s careful packaging—the titles of the tracks (“Crown The Pines,” “ Fire-scene,” “Alpenglow,” etc.), the suggestive album title (John Muir, known as the “Father of the National Parks,” has famously called the Sierra Nevada mountains “the Range of Light”) and S. Carey’s own presentation of the album (to promote the album’s release he periodically updated his blog with photos involving treetops layered over mountain peaks or a large pine weeding out from a cliff). However, aside from the album’s presentation, S. Carey’s distinctly delicate, zephyr-like voice, repurposing of instruments to personify elements figured in his natural surroundings, and forlorn and melancholy tone work to imply that this album was informed by a natural versus an urban setting.

Most tracks have a cinematic quality to them. They easily evoke a panoramic scene of a wind-washed valley or a full, uncharted forest or a looming mountain range. Moreover, S. Carey admits that some of the tracks were inspired by his childhood spent camping, fishing, and hiking in California and Arizona. Others, I’m certain, were informed by his relationship to his native Wisconsin landscape. S. Carey finds in nature a comrade, a mirror, and even a gateway and sets these experiences to music. This album can be considered as an ekphrastic piece on one’s relationship to his natural surroundings, but it’s also an audible trek through nature—a sort of soundtrack for Mother Nature. In either reading, it’ll encourage you to think about your natural surroundings in a different way or to at least provide a momentary escape from the general hustle of everyday life.

Compared to his first album, All We Grow, Range of Light is looser and wider. It’s on a larger, more mature scale. Its openness encourages listeners to contemplate the act of listening. S. Carey’s airy, soothing voice inches out of a slightly ajar door. The delicateness of his voice is more suggestive than directive. S. Carey’s soft, encouraging vocals begins tracks in order to ease the listener and when his vocals exit, he releases the listener to meditate in the backdrop of layered instrumentals. The delicateness of his voice suggests a level of vulnerability—as if he’s sharing secrets, stories, and memories that would, outside of the album, be fleeting, nearly inaudible whispers. With a variety of instruments including a saxophone, piano, viola, upright bass, and even a harp, S. Carey creatively layers sounds to create landscapes within each track. Some of the tracks have a lurching, muffled energy, putting you in a kind of physical comatose—your body still and relaxed, but your insides churning and circling. It’s a strange feeling that may require multiple listens to “get” or even enjoy. Moreover, for those who don’t particularly connect with nature, S. Carey’s often melancholic and self-reflective tone, can make this album leap towards the dramatic, focusing your gaze on the overturned ideal of the grandiose dignity of nature.

Range of Light sways between pleasurable escapism and intermittent prodding. The strongest tracks are the ones that have a balance between the tangible and the ephemeral. A catchy melody, for instance, can anchor a song, making it more tangible, more felt, and more resonant while an ambient interlude with a loose arrangement of instrumentals or without S. Carey’s guiding vocals can disengage or remove the listener. Consider listening to this album as a single, unified, long track documenting the seasonal changes of a natural landscape. Consider using this album as the soundtrack for a solitary hike. Or consider using this album as background music while you work. In the end, I appreciate this album because it forces me to slow down. Sometimes, we need just that.

“Range of light adorned in white in fields, first dawn is yawning.”

1. Glass/Film
The opening track is a meditative lullaby. The beginning ripples out into a medley of instruments including a guitar, keyboard, and saxophone. The medley cascades into the track creating a cinematic feel. Later, the instruments come together to amplify the track. At this moment, the track feels comprehensive. Overall, it’s an engaging opener.8.0
2. Creaking
“Creaking” begins with the sound of rain falling on a tin roof. The raindrops then morph seamlessly into the beat of the track. The reiteration of “creaking” followed by the onomatopoeic instrumentals (mimicking a sort of creaking in themselves) forces the listener to think of the creaking action in relation to the sounds. The track strips down towards the end and what’s left is a machine-like treading—the sound of a train submerged in water.7.0
3. Crown the Pines
This is one of the strongest tracks of the album. S. Carey’s voice opens with a soft staccato as background voices emerge to write over his voice. The play with tempo adds to the memorability of this track. The tempo reaches a moment of urgency at the chorus, but is delayed by S. Carey’s drawn-out and anchoring vocals. The instruments harmoniously interact with each other to create an energy lacking in the previous tracks.9.0
4. Fire-scene
The somber, reflective plucking of the guitar sets a pensive tone for this track. One whole minute in, S. Carey’s voice unexpectedly reveals itself. The instruments talk to each other and brush against each other in a natural, symbiotic way. However, this track muffles any energy carried over from “Crown the Pines.”6.5
5. Radiant
S. Carey opens, “You are radiant and I’m ready.” His angelic voice soothes and lures. But less than two minutes long and at the center of the album, “Radiant” serves as a strange, and confusing intermission in Range of Light. The sparseness of the track—both lyrically and instrumentally—makes this track feel more like a leftover than an enticing appetizer.5.5
6. Alpenglow
This is the other strong track of the album. The leading piano’s straightforward, but bright, simple steadiness is beautiful. S. Carey sings, “I was wondering if you’d be my wife. Be the compass in my broken life.” His delicate voice carries a forlorn, unresolved melancholy. When S. Carey stops singing, he allows the instrumentals to carve a space for the listener to reflect on what he just sang.9.0
7. Fleeting Light
The stripped down beginning and isolated plucking makes this track more airy and light than the previous tracks. After S. Carey sings, “Not without that fleeting light,” the track shifts as if someone has pulled apart the curtains for the wilderness to perform a dance. This is a good example of S. Carey’s thoughtful play with layering sounds. There are a lot of elements swirling in this track, making “Fleeting Light” meatier than other tracks.7.5
8. The Dome
The guitar opens this track with a promising melody. But I lose interest about halfway through when I realize the track is built on a plateau. At this point, I consider the track a pretty song to go in and out of. S. Carey’s voice sounds airier here, making his lyrics harder to discern. Had his voice been crisper, following the tone set by the guitar and making him more understandable, the track may have interested me more.6.5
9. Neverending Fountain
The track begins with someone walking through crunchy snow. The upright bass’s own steps anchors the track as the buzzing, persistent strings both lighten and mystify the track. There’s a celestial quality to this track. I can easily picture this track being used for a scene where someone is being pulled into the sky by a beam of light. “Neverending Fountain” is a strong close to the album, kindly releasing us back to reality.8.0
Denver transplant Jenifer Park roll tides at the University of Alabama for her MFA in poetry.



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