A subtle celebration of beauty

“Range of Light” is the sophomore album from Sean Carey, a musician best known for his work with Justin Vernon in the indie band Bon Iver. His 2010 debut “All We Grow” was recorded intermittently over a two-year period during breaks in the band’s busy touring schedule. A well-received album, it established Carey’s sound as a mixture of indie folk, classical and minimalist music. “Range of Light” continues to develop his sound, this time with all the resources and time of a proper recording studio, that of his bandmate Justin Vernon’s.

Carey takes full advantage of the tools afforded him in a professional studio, resulting in some absolutely gorgeous sound production. The tracks on this record are so textured you can almost feel them. The very first sound on the opener “Glass/Film” exudes a certain warmth and depth that is hard to put into words, but nevertheless establishes a strong bed of tone for the rest of the song to lay in. Everything feels very intimate due to recording very close to the various sources of sound, especially in the case of Carey’s voice, in which you will hear every little nuance.

This sense of intimacy is pretty remarkable when you consider how layered these recordings are. In the first track alone you’ll hear piano, vocals, marimba, xylophone, drinking glasses, thumb piano, harp, banjo, more vocals, drums, electric guitar, saxophone and a myriad of subtle electronic sounds. Despite the enormity of the ensemble, the listener will never be overwhelmed due to incredible writing and orchestrating. Every instrument plays a small role and is there to serve a purpose, not just as a novelty or to demonstrate the artist’s skill.

And Carey does have incredible skill, toting a degree in classical percussion from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. His strong sense of rhythm and syncopation especially shines on “Crown the Pines.” Featuring a guest vocal performance from Justin Vernon, this is catchiest track on the album despite being in an odd time signature with heavy rhythmic syncopation. Again, the trick is in the subtlety. Carey isn’t being overt about much on this record, preferring to charm quietly with his stunning songwriting and performance.

This record is absolutely gorgeous. These songs conjure up images of open plains, lush forests and mountain ranges, transporting the listener to a place of beauty and serenity. This may be the only problem with the record: it is too beautiful. The only track that gives us any real tension and release is the closer “Neverending Fountain,” and even then it is so subtle you’ll barely notice the dissonance. But this is a tiny gripe with a truly incredible record. Filled with depth, texture and beauty, “Range of Light” is a rewarding album for anyone willing to spend time with it.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.

DOWNLOAD NOW: “Crown the Pines”