At its heart, Hundred Acres - the third full-length from Wisconsin singer/songwriter S. Carey - finds him grounded, comfortable in his skin, but still with one foot in the stream. More direct than ever, there is a wellspring of confidence in this new batch of songs that allow for ideas to remain uncomplicated while laying bare the intricacies of life.
Written over the course of a few years, in between touring schedules and the growth of his family, Carey recorded, mixed and produced Hundred Acres at home and in various studios in rural Wisconsin with support from his regular crew and contributions from the likes of Rob Moose (yMusic), Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) and Sophie Payten (Gordi).
Trained in jazz, Carey’s astute musicianship has never been in question nor taken for granted, and the execution of Hundred Acres new ideas is seamless. The songwriter intentionally unburdened himself from a more complicated palate for the ten songs that comprise the new album. This slight modification to his approach has the effect of bringing the content of the work much closer to a living reality.
Perhaps no song better illustrates this ethos than “More I See,” an exultant and strummy, snare-on-3 gratification piece. This is echoed by Carey who says “The best way to understand this song is through the lyrics ‘When I’m naked, deciding… no I ain’t surviving,” meaning you can just live to live.” A cairn on the trail to inner happiness, the song has an undeniable appeal rooted in this uncomplicated idea, superbly realized with a cinematic and understated drama.
On “Fool’s Gold,” Carey’s signature minimalism is intact with an acoustic guitar acting as the backbone, propped up ever so slightly by ambient keys and a lilting slide. The song showcases the difference between writing on a guitar versus a piano, as he has traditionally done. Says Carey, “This song is what started the whole record . . . everything came out of it and the vibe it created.”
Thematically, the album is a poetic treatise on what is truly necessary in life, a surprisingly utilitarian art project that articulates vitality. The simplification of songwriting didn’t arrive out of thin air, it came from the same desire for daily life to be unburdened of anxiety and tethered by love, to reach for the utopia of simplicity. It is a way to say that returning to a more simple life, if even just a little, can heal wounds and mend the cracks. This is leadership by example rather than intervention, and it starts at home.
Simply stated, over the course of three albums, two EPs, and a few one-off singles, S. Carey has proven to be a reliable source of beauty. It’s a safe claim to make that something so reliably beautiful can also be called enduring. In an era when the shelf life of art is typically measured in minutes, this accomplishment puts him in a rare group of artists, seemingly unconcerned (but not indifferent) to passing trends.
"In Leonard, Tivel has found a partner whose obsession for sonic landscapes matches her own for the written word. His goosebumps-inducing string arrangements feature heavily throughout the record. Leonard also plays percussion on the album and has a standout performance on the song "Shadowland" where he skillfully guides the moody arrangement behind a complex military-inspired beat."