S. Carey’s chosen musical expression is a hugely beatific, restorative panorama of beauty – perfect given how landscape and the wonder of nature inspire much of Carey’s imagery. His new album Range of Light – the follow-up to his 2010 debut All We Grow – takes its title from the name that 19th century naturalist John Muir – Carey’s hero – gave to California’s Sierra Nevada, and follows suit with a dazzling array of musical light and shade, drawn from Carey’s love of jazz, modern classical and Americana. Like a weathered mountain range changing shadow form and color, or the ebb and flow of a river’s current, his music is simultaneously restful and rhythmic, complex and simple, and always evolving.
“My music has specific connections to nature and place, my surroundings, and my experiences,” says Carey. “I travelled the Sierra Nevada area many times as a boy, fishing small mountain streams, hiking to the top of ‘half dome’, exploring the Redwood groves at Wawona, in awe of the Yosemite Valley. The term, ‘Range of Light’, to me, denotes the spectrum of light and dark a person can have in their life – peaks and valleys of happiness, sorrow, challenges and growth – for me most recently and more specifically: marriage, having a baby, and maintaining a spiritual connection to nature, place, friends and family as an adult.”
While he studied classical percussion and piano at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, Carey imbibed rhythmic minimalists such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Immediately after graduating in 2007, he caught wind that Eau Claire resident Justin Vernon was forming a band to take his For Emma, Forever Ago opus on the road. Carey learnt the drum and vocal parts for the album, rehearsed with Vernon, and has been a mainstay of the Bon Iver live band ever since.
While on tour with Bon Iver, Carey developed his own song writing ambitions, and after many less than frequent recording sessions between tours, released All We Grow in 2010. Those nine songs sat between a folk/modern classical hybrid and rarefied jazz climes. Carey’s warm melodic nuances, reflected in the lush folds of his singing, added to the mutable percussive syncopations of his instrumentation.
Range of Light incorporates elements of his previous work, but also amplifies Carey’s percussive proclivities, and is altogether more developed than its predecessors, with more input on the performance and even composition side from the band of musicians and best friends he assembled originally to bring All We Grow to life in the live setting. “There were times during recording sessions when there were three percussionists, all with different styles and fortes, playing at once, adding different textures.”
From the flurry of violins over a circular rhythm in ‘Crown The Pines’ and the beautiful cries of ‘Alpenglow’, to the pensive depths of songs like ‘Fire-scene’ and ‘The Dome’, Range of Light is a still life of an artist in this particular stage of his life; a stage that has been met with the highest of peaks and the lowest of depths all within the range each of us treads through.