With his pastoral north woods orchestrations and evocative soundscapes, Wisconsin native S. Carey channels his admiration for American naturalist John Muir on 2014's Range of Light. Expanding upon the tones of his 2010 debut, All We Grow, Carey digs even deeper with this detailed paean to California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. With roots in classical, jazz, and pop, he approaches his music more as a composer than a songwriter, echoing the type of sprawling modernist Americana that Sufjan Stevens first introduced a decade earlier. Borrowing the album's title from Muir's description of the mighty Sierras, Range of Light is indeed loftier and more ambitious than its predecessor both in its inspiration and sonic scope. Where Carey handled most of All We Grow on his own, Range of Light features a small orchestra of collaborators adding additional voices (most notably, Bon Iver bandmate Justin Vernon), woodwinds, horns, strings, and other decorum to tone poems like "Fire-Scene" and "Alpenglow." With his gentle, earnest voice, Carey imbues the album with a folk flavor that matches his naturalist aesthetic. The production is clean, warm, and full of detail, letting the arrangements breathe for the most part. But, as lovingly arranged and as beautifully recorded as the album is, there is still a feeling of having heard many of these styles before, especially on songs like the polyrhythmic "Crown the Pines," which could be an outtake from Sufjan Stevens' Greetings from Michigan album. Other comparisons to folk-pop heroes like Iron & Wine aren't out of place either, but Range of Light's unifying theme of the Sierra range is heartfelt, and when enjoyed as a whole, the album succeeds as a unique effort that is familiar, yet distinct and extremely personal.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger