Best of the 2010s: S. Carey Was Blown Away by Stranger In The Alps

Phoebe Bridgers’s debut album gives the Bon Iver drummer “a lot of hope.”

The first time I heard Phoebe Bridgers’s Stranger In The Alps, I was blown away instantly. I knew a little bit about Phoebe — her song “Killer,” I was really into before the record came out with a different version of it. I sort of became obsessed with that song originally, and then when I heard the record, I was taken aback by how good it was, especially for someone so young. I was just like, Wow, how did she write this so young? Everything sounded so mature.

It just hit this sweet spot of something new and exciting, but also familiar in a way, and almost nostalgic even though I hadn’t heard it before. Her music isn’t futuristic, but it was a breath of fresh air in that it’s a songwriter’s album. I guess that’s what hit me the most first, that the songs were so good. That’s something that I’ve been trying to focus on more, creating and crafting really good songs. 

I really love the production too. I fell in love with every little aspect of it — it doesn’t have a bad song on it, it’s complete, it makes sense. I listened to it so much that I haven’t heard it now for probably a year or more. I totally burned out on it, because I loved it so much. That kind of record, for me, only happens once every couple years. When I get into something, I really obsess over it.

I got to meet Phoebe and play a set with her when she opened for Bon Iver; I sat in on some drums and piano, and that was super fun for me. It was really cool to know a record that well, and just play it from memory. Like, “Yeah, I know that song, let’s do it. Let me figure out what key you play it in.” 

The album gives me a lot of hope. I don’t know if it defines the decade at all, but it gives me hope that young people are doing awesome things, especially young women — that’s really important, and I think they’re going to keep doing awesome shit and people need to recognize it. I like a lot of music, but in general that’s been more attractive for me to listen to — her, and a band like Big Thief. There’s more people I need to check out too, I’m sure.

At its heart, Hundred Acres — the third full-length album from Wisconsin singer/songwriter S. Carey — finds him grounded comfortably in his skin, but still with one foot in the stream. More direct than ever, there is a wellspring of confidence in this new batch of songs that lays bare the intricacies of life while keeping its ideas uncomplicated.

Trained in jazz, Carey’s astute musicianship has never been in question nor taken for granted, and the execution of Hundred Acres’ new ideas is seamless. He intentionally unburdened himself from a more complicated instrumentation palate for these ten songs, and, in effect, this modification to his approach brings the content of the work much closer to a living reality. By giving equal status to the indifference of nature and the concerns of a material world — while employing more pop-oriented structures instead of the Steve Reich– or Talk Talk-ian repetitions of his past work — a new balance is struck that creates something unique. This in turn provides equal status for the feeling that created each song, and the feeling each song creates. Almost impossibly, there is more air between the bars; Carey and his contributors sway like treetops in the wind, remaining flexible enough that they never threaten to break.

Written over the course of a few years, in between touring schedules and the growth of his family, Carey recorded, mixed and produced Hundred Acres at home and in various studios in rural Wisconsin with support from his longtime collaborators Zach Hanson, Ben Lester, and Jeremy Boettcher, as well as new contributions from Rob Moose (yMusic), Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) and Sophie Payten (Gordi).