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S. Carey makes his own masterpiece

Patrick Griffin | Tuesday, September 21, 2010

For Sean Carey, drummer for the contemporary band Bon Iver, his band’s last album was a tough act to follow. In fact, “For Emma, Forever Ago” could hardly be considered the Wisconsin native’s own work. The album was largely the creation of musical soul man Justin Vernon. Carey actually didn’t get his start with Bon Iver until after the entire album had been written by Vernon in a remote Wisconsin cabin.

Thus venturing out as a solo artist from behind Vernon’s shadow was a somewhat tall aspiration for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate. However, using the pseudonym S. Carey, the drummer has certainly held his own with his debut solo album “All We Grow.”

Much like the products of his previous musical affiliations, “All We Grow” is beautiful in its simplicity. The “less-is-more” mantra is certainly at work on the album, allowing for each instrumental and vocal element to emerge in full. Compared to “For Emma,” S. Carey’s inaugural project is a bit more reliant on spacey tones and showcases wandering melodies often driven by keyboards rather than guitar.

The album was composed and recorded in between tour assignments with Bon Iver over the past two years. According to Carey, “All We Grow” started with several incomplete song ideas and grew to a full studio album, written and recorded almost entirely by the drummer. Apart from his formal percussion training, Carey displays proficiency on the guitar and keyboard on “All We Grow.”

For an album concocted by a formal drummer, “All We Grow” is surprisingly melodic. In fact, several tracks lack percussion entirely, or proceed without beats for entire sections. Instead, S. Carey relies on the steady floating cadence of a piano or guitar to establish a contemplative ambience throughout the album.

Background vocals also provide structure and organization for several songs.

Carey proves to be more than vocally competent, but often allows the album’s instrumentation to take center stage and transport the listener between strategically placed vocal sections. Though the instrumental portions of “All We Grow” may seem repetitive, they bloom and flourish in dramatic fashion, conveying certain undefined emotional sentiments that cannot be expressed fully though words.

“We Fell” perfectly blends Carey’s part-time vocals with his aptitude for dramatic instrumentation. As the artist’s gentle vocals fade into the background, the accompanying piano builds to a dramatic crescendo before abruptly surrendering attention back to Carey’s voice.

Carey’s voice is certainly more grounded than Vernon’s soaring falsetto. However, several tracks reflect the airing harmonies rampant in the work of Bon Iver. “Mothers” and “Broken,” the album’s concluding track, utilize echoing harmonies often found in “For Emma.”

Nevertheless, “All We Grow” formalizes an identity wholly apart from Bon Iver. In that sense, the album is not a side project. Rather, S. Carey’s maiden voyage into solo artistry is a successful definition of the drummer as an entirely new and dynamic artist.

For an album created by a lifelong percussionist, “All We Grow” is surprisingly harmonious and melodic. S. Carey proves to be more than rhythmic with his first solo effort, and steps from behind Bon Iver’s shadow with supreme grace. For fans of sophisticated soft rock, this album is a tremendous debut that deserves multiple listens. Dial up “All We Grow” on a quiet day with a pair of nice headphones and enjoy pensive creation of this talented and emerging artist.

S. Carey will be performing Thursday at Subkirke, located at 1855 N. Hickory Road in South Bend. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., the show begins at 8:30. Tickets can be purchased for $10 in advance at subkirke.com/tickets/default.html, or for $12 at the door.