A gorgeous meditation on the fragility and beauty of life.
S. Careyâs third album, Hundred Acres, is an album that seems to trace the effects of winter on nature and human life. Opener âRose Petalsâ mirrors the falling of snow with its acoustic strums landing softly but with force. âHideoutâ is a walk in the brisk cold, your breath a perpetual cloud in front of your face, your cheeks ruddy and red and the snow around you glistening pure white. Snow and cold are an almost ever-present theme on the album, a presence that you can all but hear; the penultimate track, âFoolâs Goldâ, even manages to sound like the first moments of the thaw â you can pretty much hear the snow melting in the background.
Organic has always been an accurate descriptor for Careyâs music. In amidst synths and electronic sketches, and alongside virtuosic playing that belies his jazz education, there was always a clear connection to the world around him. On âNeverending Fountainâ, from sophomore album Range of Light, for example, the percussion is made up of layered footsteps trudging through snow. Hundred Acres takes the idea of an organic album and pushes it further than any of Careyâs past works, an interesting development given his long-time collaboration with Justin Vernon on Bon Iverâs music. As Bon Iver has gotten more electronic with each release, Carey has gone in the other direction, slowly removing electronic palettes and complicated structures from subsequent albums until Hundred Acres has a mere sheen of synths and static. Itâs a simple album, nothing strays away from linearity. It sounds startlingly like some of folk and indie rock's most acclaimed: some tracks sound like they could have been pulled straight from Sufjan Stevensâ Carrie & Lowell, or Bon Iverâs For Emma, Forever Ago.
Lyrically, itâs a work that is more about expressing ideas abstractly, rather than offering concrete definition. The lyrics are suggestive, providing just enough detail to give you a frame in which to hang your own interpretation. Vocally, itâs a deceptively soft album, where Carey rarely soars above the mix. His lyrics are not just unclear in specific meaning, theyâre also often unclear in specific diction â words flow together, almost able to be replaced by emotional hums. Words and melodies rise out of his chest laboriously; this can be seen in âTrue Northâ, which also has the least obtuse lyrics, telling the story of Careyâs first date with his now-wife. Despite the lyrical variety, itâs clearly a personal album, one concerned with his own fatherâs impending death, personal tragedies that unfolded in the family, and, of course, love â as Carey himself said in a statement regarding the record, âCan you write a record and not reference Love?â.
Choosing a standout track from Hundred Acres is difficult. The album exists as a whole, with no one track standing head and shoulders above any other. Itâs a gorgeous album, with vocals that float along over simple, yet lush, instrumentals that have been largely untouched by production magic. The tracks throughout, have similar structures, similar textures, and similar melodies â but it doesn't matter when listening to them all together. âMore I Seeâ stands out mostly because of its huge similarity to Francis and the Lights track âFriendsâ in its first half. As for the other tracks, âYellowstoneâ has a layered outro, where the lyrics flow in and around and over the top of each other: fragments can be picked out and the chaos sounds somehow glorious.
âEmeryâ has the most remnants of past albums, with a less simple structure, and builds into a wave that recedes with the decay of the songâs final notes. âHundred Acresâ has another affecting outro, where Carey sings âNo, I can't... I can't do it/ I can't do it, I can't do it/ No, I can't... I can't do it/ I can't do it,â the fragments and hesitation revealing a heart-breaking inner look at his own faults and inabilities. The albumâs first single, âFoolâs Goldâ is perhaps the most heart-breaking of the album's tracks, concerning itself as it does with Careyâs wifeâs miscarriage following the birth of their first child. Itâs not an immediately clear subject, but when Carey sings âThere are nights I see you/ In big sister's hazel eyesâ itâs hard not to be moved greatly.
Closing track, âMeadow Songâ, is the most expansive track on the album. Directing his words to his father, Carey sings âYou can stay, you can stay/ I wandered off but found the way/ And all these cliffs surrounding me/ The holes are patched in thanks in part to youâ and the âyouâ of that final line rises out above the music and the rest of the melody. With it, the possibilities lay before us and S. Carey: possibilities for love, for new beginnings, for fresh starts, but also for tragedy. With the recognition of the âyouâ that is Careyâs father, he also recognises the possibilities that are tied to all of humanity â life and death in equal amounts.
Ultimately, Hundred Acres is an album, a whole that is greater than its parts. It is a collection of tracks, to be literal, but it feels unintended for that purpose and unserved by dissection. With Hundred Acres, Carey has provided a gorgeous meditation on the fragility and beauty of life. Itâs an album that doesnât demand your attention but wins it nonetheless. Put it on in the background if you wish, but youâll soon find yourself paused in your activity, listening to Carey, buoyed along.