Credit: Peter Larson
by Andrew Bosma Music Pop Rocks

S. Carey — Break Me Open

May 24, 2022

Break Me Open offers more of the same soothing, late-aughts folk from S. Carey, a record that will appeal to existing fans but unlikely to draw in many more.

Bon Iver drummer S. Carey is back with his fourth solo album, Break Me Open, once again leaning into his particular brand of vulnerability, expressing rough and raw feelings with this typically gentle voice and heartbreaking lyrical work. Which is to say, by and large, if you dig early Bon Iver, you’re probably inclined to S. Carey’s music. It makes sense, as he himself is a fan, initially becoming a part of the band because he knew the first record so well that he impressed Justin Vernon with his audition. And his sounds are still steeped in that late-2000s indie folk vibe, practically a time capsule to the era. It’s understandable that such an approach wouldn’t age particularly well for some, but for generous listeners, his skills remain top-notch, and he never takes the opportunity to rehash the worst traits of the genre. His lyrics likewise remain tough and biting, spinning confessionals about his divorce and the loss of his father, wounds laid open for the listener to experience in a manner so personal as to feel almost intrusive, his landing of each line taking on the character of a one-on-one conversation. It results in an emotional resonance that is hard, if not impossible, for many artists to fake, and even in his fourth record, S. Carey’s music still feels profoundly genuine.  

But in spite of this welcome intimacy, there isn’t a whole lot else going on. It’s a very vibes record, which isn’t inherently a bad thing — of course, not every work needs to push boundaries or innovate in order to succeed — but S. Carey doesn’t have the luxury of being a household name or major rockstar milking the same tropes over and over again in filled stadiums across the country. Fair or not, for a smaller artist, particularly one trading in an arguably nostalgic mode, it can be difficult to repeatedly get away with this. Which is to say, while Break Me Open is a delicate, soothing listen, it registers as a replica of his past work rather than any kind of continuation of themes or progression of sound. It’s unfortunate that something so obviously personal dovetails with a musical texture that was already familiar a decade ago, and while the expressions are clearly cathartic for S. Carey, the album undeniably lands a little flat. Those who are established fans will likely still connect with Break Me Open on some not insignificant level, but for a general listenership, a first spin will likely float into the ether, pleasant but never to be returned to.

Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2022 | Part 2.