Release Date: Aug 24, 2010
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Ringo Starr. Tommy Lee. Phil Collins. The rock record books bode poorly for drummers-turned-singers, with the luckiest going on to be merely forgettable (Queen’s Roger Taylor gave us a few albums that have been, thankfully, lost to history) and the worst using the success of their more popular outfit to inflict career-long embarrassments on the masses.
When he learned that Justin Vernon was expanding Bon Iver from a one-man project into a full band, Sean Carey retreated to his bedroom, broke down For Emma, Forever Ago into parts, and learned each one. After approaching Vernon at a show and briefly jamming together, Carey was hired more or less on the spot. That's not the most exciting chapter of the Bon Iver story, but it says a great deal about Carey and his first solo album, the shimmery, contemplative All We Grow.
While Sean Carey's initial breakthrough to wider public attention came from being a percussionist for Bon Iver once that band started fully hitting the road, the classically trained performer had enough experience and knowledge under his belt to try for a cover of Talk Talk's "I Believe in You" during live dates for that band. It's a good general frame for how to regard his solo debut, All We Grow -- Carey has the aspirational yearning of the English group and the moody reflectiveness of the American one in spades, but is able to start more clearly showing his own voice on the one-man-and-plenty-of-overdubs effort. If anything, All We Grow further suggests an Upper Midwest of the mind, with the Wisconsin-based Carey creating pieces like "Move" and "In the Dirt" that aren't so much songs as ambient meditation as they are songs as quietly dramatic atmospherics -- one almost wants to imagine the album being the sonic setting for a movie or a short story with fresh snow against a slate-gray sky.
If you think it's going to be tough for Justin Vernon to deliver after the huge success of Bon Iver's 2007 album, For Emma, Forever Ago, imagine the uphill battle for a dude who toured in his band. S. Carey joined Vernon as a part of his Bon Iver touring band after that album took off, and as valuable as that experience was, he spent much of it missing his soul mate back home.
Bon Iver is one of the great indie success stories of the last few years. Everyone knows the tale by now: Justin Vernon experiences a loss, of sorts; retreats to a cabin deep in the woods of Wisconsin; records For Emma, Forever Ago while surrounded by that isolation; the album becomes a sleeper hit, its raw emotion resonating with listeners across the globe. Somewhere in that progression, Sean Carey dips into the story.
Poor Sean Carey. What must it be like to be a formally-trained, independently talented classical musician forever in the shadow of a widely revered bandmate? The truth is, All We Grow will rarely be listened to without the caveat, “Yeah, that’s the drummer from Bon Iver,” which will then likely be followed by someone’s asserting that they liked For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon’s spectacular, widely lauded near-solo debut, but had trouble buying into very much after that. After that, though, is when Carey, Mike Noyce, and Matthew McCaughan joined Vernon.
This is intimacy on a purely aural level, the ultimate headphones album. Daniel Ross 2010 As the drummer for the alt-folk success story of the last few years, Bon Iver, Sean Carey (here abbreviated to an initial) has little in his performing career to suggest that he would be capable of making a record so rewarding as this. We perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised, though, looking at his past form.