S. Carey certainly has a light touch. Most of the sounds on Hundred Acres (Jagjaguwar)—from his vocals to the drums—seem to be drifting by on the wind. Not that the album is without momentum. Take “True North” as a good example. The melody is all long, slow chord changes, but a syncopated shaker and snare figure keeps you curious, and that jumpy pulse makes sure the track doesn’t get too languorous. It’s the difference between taking a nap under your favorite tree and spending the day in the leaves, smiling at the sun. The best songs here are the ones that keep it just that simple. The title track and “Fools Gold” both gather fervor, but they don’t go for bombast the way “Have You Stopped to Notice” and “More I See” do. The latter two are both a bit overly manipulative, though I don’t doubt the honesty of Carey’s zeal. This is music for long days in forgotten valleys where no one will find you.
The touchstones are familiar, maybe overly so: Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, and Bon Iver (for which Carey fills the twin roles of drummer and supporting vocalist). So if you’re hung up on whether this guy’s an original, maybe check out his earlier albums, which include a lot more piano and wander a little further from the formula. It would, in fact, be very easy to be cynical about this record. The album art is a hazy photo of a perfect tree overlooking a pond. The title is a woodsy Winnie the Pooh reference. Look at these songs, “Hideout,” “Yellowstone,” “Meadow Song”—this record could be the soundtrack to the new REI catalog. But the album is free of all such cynicism. At its best, Hundred Acres evokes the feeling of having your heart healed by an idyllic place, visited with just the right person. As such, it is sometimes direct, sometimes unbelievably grand, and frequently unusually innocent. He really is singing about water, grass, and mountains, and I believe he’s been there.