Bon Iver collaborator's latest solo outing is emotional porn. In a good way.
There is an unwritten rule that you should never use the phrase “achingly beautiful” when reviewing pretty music. Writers love it. They use it to describe guitar riffs. Hit singles. Every song Lana Del Rey has ever breathed on. It’s so nonsensical and overused that there is even a Twitter dedicated to its omnipresence (@solovelyithurts), run by the now defunct newspaper The Stool Pigeon, which is still hilarious even after you’ve scrolled down it for the tenth time. If you see those words in these pages, burn them.
Actually, don’t. Because the thing is, despite all that, S Carey’s second album is achingly beautiful. It is hurty and affecting and will make you feel things you don’t want to feel because it’s not cool to feel anything, and you can only communicate what little you do feel in 140 characters, or with a turd emoji. Its repetitive, sombre chords and lullaby-soft vocals knot themselves around your sensitive parts, making you swoon and need a Lemsip at the same time.
A long-standing member of Bon Iver, Sean Carey has had the best education in aching beauty. He recorded ‘Range Of Light’ at Justin Vernon’s studio in Wisconsin. Though his solo stuff chimes with Vernon’s (shamelessly romantic, autumnal, lots of finger-pickin’ acoustic goodness), it’s crisper and glistens with ambient atmosphere and mellow beats. Opener ‘Glass/Film’ recalls Eno protégé Jon Hopkins’ early piano-focused work and is as fresh as pink cheeks on a chilly day. Lead single ‘Fire-scene’, meanwhile, subtly crunches like footsteps in the snow.
It’s nostalgic for the idyllic trips into the great Californian outdoors that Carey took as a young boy. But also, perhaps, mournful about outgrowing that sense of wide-eyed wonder, especially on ‘Crown The Pines’, which skitters into trip-hop, a gorgeous arc of strings swelling as if chasing that feeling. Other songs are hopelessly sweet, too: piano ballad ‘Alpenglow’, for example, is about proposing to his wife, as innocent and warm as a dry hump in front of a log fire.
Is it all a bit Twilight soundtrack? Sort of. Emotional porn? Most definitely. Does S Carey need a big bag of manballs? Probably. But is it achingly beautiful? A hundred times yes.