Some people go mountain climbing in their spare time. Some watch TV or read a book. Sean Carey made an album. Spending a bulk of his time as a touring percussionist for Bon Iver, Carey crafted All We Grow in between gigs, recording in the same Eau Claire studio Justin Vernon recorded For Emma, Forever Ago. While For Emma, Forever Ago is wrought with heartbreak, All We Grow is comparably lighter. Carey wrote many of the songs after meeting his now wife, with all of the tracks reflecting the joys of new love and of finding someone to share a life with.
It might be easy to assume that Carey’s songs would be filled with hushed acoustic guitars and folk harmonies due to his work with Bon Iver. Rather, the songs on All We Grow are lush with shimmering pianos and gentle percussion, reflecting Carey’s background as a classical and jazz percussionist and pianist. The arrangements have an elegant complexity, but are not showy. Album opener “Move” lays out a beautifully calm atmosphere, with music that moves as easy as taking a breath. The opening inhalation-like tremors recall Björk’s “Unravel” – bringing to mind comfort and serenity. In fact, much of this album has a sense of calm and relaxation to it. Each track is allowed to breathe naturally – taking its time to unfurl, unrushed. “We Fell” features a lovely piano riff that wouldn’t be out of place in an Antony and the Johnsons song. Carey effortlessly blends his classical and jazz influences to these, essentially, pop/folk songs – owing as much to Philip Glass as to Joni Mitchell.
As I listened to All We Grow, the songs enveloped me. It’s a strange sensation to feel utterly calmed by an album that you’re almost floating, suspended. Carey’s voice is languid and harmonious, balancing the more complex percussion arrangements (such as in the exquisite “In the Dirt”), much like Jose Gonzalez’s hushed voice counter-balanced his intricate guitar work. Each song is vibrant and it is shockingly clear how much care has gone into each track, each note, and each word. Yet these songs don’t sound overwrought, they don’t sound worked. Carey’s songs have an airy effortlessness and reverberate with emotions that easily resonate. Like his bandmate Justin Vernon, Carey has crafted an album that is at once specific to his experience, but rings true to experiences of love, loss and happiness.