S. Carey - Hundred Acres - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

S. Carey - Hundred Acres

by Brian Thompson Rating:6 Release Date:2018-02-23
S. Carey - Hundred Acres
S. Carey - Hundred Acres

Carey, former Bon Iver percussionist and current flannel enthusiast, has always been drawn to the world of nature, boasting music that is fascinated with mountainsides and supermoons. On his third full-length record, Hundred Acres, he “challenges himself and the listener to strive for a near-utopian ideal of returning to a simpler way of life,” which sounds more like a campaign slogan than an album plug. Aiming to dive even further into his ambient nature aesthetic (and not in a Man of the Woods, sexy robot kind of way), he has traded in lush instrumentation for a much more minimalist approach to songwriting. Carey first came into the spotlight when he dismantled For Emma, Forever Ago and examined every gear, but unfortunately we don’t see that attention to detail on his latest effort.

By scaling back the electronic texture of his earlier albums, Carey sands down the jagged edges in order to tap into some spiritual rhythm of the natural world. The result, however, is a uniformity to the tracks that blends them into a practically indiscernible mush. We’ve seen albums harness the energy found only in the open wilderness (Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther comes to mind), but this is closer to the dulcet tones you would expect to happen upon during your morning Starbucks run. There’s no question that Carey is a talented musician and a gifted vocalist, but he isn’t doing nearly enough to distinguish himself from the granola bar commercial folk pop acts.

Wearing your influences on your sleeve isn’t an inherent hindrance, but Hundred Acres has a nasty habit of reminding its listeners of artists who have made this genre their own. “Rose Petals” plays like a lost Iron & Wine B-side; “Hideout” would feel at home on Carrie & Lowell; the title track marries mid-career Paul Simon’s xylophone flickers with Andrew Bird’s whistling strings; “Meadow Song” is the mark of a true Nick Drake disciple. The tracks are pleasant and soothing, but it’s tempting to turn them off and throw on a Leonard Cohen LP. If Carey is going to pay tribute to his musical idols, he’d better also make a convincing argument for why we should be tuning into his songs in lieu of theirs.

If S. Carey comes into his own on Hundred Acres, it’s as the record slides into its second half. The cozy “More I See” utilizes sparse percussion to turn the focus inward, examining the singer and his place within a vast, arcane universe. The album’s lead single, the tender campfire lullabye “Fool’s Gold,” is another lyrical marker of personal growth, framed by ethereal chords layered on top of acoustic guitar strums. It is clear that Carey picked up a trick or two from his tenure with Bon Iver, but his career since seems to be increasingly tied to a disapproval of Justin Vernon’s gravitation toward electronica.

Folk rock always has its eyes on the past, but Hundred Acres too often feels trapped there. We’ve heard far too many coffee shop artists try to turn winter into a genre over the past decade for this to feel even remotely fresh or inventive. S. Carey still feels like he is searching for his voice, how to make his narrative stand out from the countless others who are trying to ride the same wavelength. He very well may have a truly great album somewhere within his bones, but unfortunately we are going to have to wait for it. Hundred Acres is charming, melodic background noise, but it is background noise nonetheless.

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