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. Meanwhile, the hints of the obsessive minimalism drawing on his educational background can readily be heard in the brisk, immediate piano parts of "We Fell" and "In the Stream," where the rhythms are provided by keys rather than drums (themselves notable for their near complete absence from the album, though the percussive touches on "Action" add much to the song's building conclusion). "Broken," meanwhile, concludes the album on a striking note, as if all the mingled hope and sorrow driving much of the album came through first as softly sung, piano and steel guitar spotlight-moment performance and then as lushly arranged end-of-the-movie melancholia. It's also nice to hear vocals like Carey's, which gently suggest a Brian Wilson sense of harmonizing instead of fully pushing the point -- refreshing given so many of Carey's compatriots in indie-leaning rock music.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett