ALBUM: Range of Light
ARTIST: S. Carey
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.”