Sometimes music just seems to appear from nowhere. It might be the long forgotten pop song which triggers strands of youthful memories played across the tinny speakers of a busy shop or the vivid, emotional response to an unheard track puncturing the familiarity of everyday radio listening. For some albums, the build up to release results in a whirlwind of hype and expectation, the online community’s militant assertion that a leak is somehow owed them resulting in all kinds of ridiculous instant opinions being formed and posted in an attempt to be the first to assert value. But those which just pop up from nowhere, just as isolated songs occasionally and invigoratingly can, are sometimes far better served by circumventing all of that fabricated hysteria and simply sitting there, waiting for you to love them. I was only alerted to this album by a brief comment by Lauren Laverne at the tail-end of last week and, as a result of its name being lodged away somewhere in the incessant mental clutter, when details of it appeared in an email a few days ago I thought it might be worth a listen.
Like so many people this week, I listened to ‘The Suburbs’ in the hope of finding the euphoric and melancholic, the celebratory and sentimental, the contrasting but complimentary emotions that Arcade Fire have previously rendered so convincingly on record. I’m not sure that I did though. That’s not to say that it’s a bad listen and I suspect I may not have noticed quite so blatantly what it was I felt it was lacking had I not followed it, quite unsuspectingly, with ‘All We Grow’. There are times here when Sean Carey’s role as drummer with Bon Iver seems hardly surprising, but there are also moments that sound as deliciously combative as Radiohead on ‘There There’ and as sweetly forlorn as Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam on, well, most of his albums. It is a collection of songs which is simultaneously enormous and yet reticent to show off. It’s a tall man with broad shoulders walking with both hands buried deep in his trouser pockets and his shoulders slightly hunched. The insistent, unsettling piano at the start of ‘We Fell’ was the moment when it became clear that ‘All We Grow’ wants to take you somewhere. The gracious, angelic vocal which sits atop the repetitive pounding of the keys seems almost at odds with its accompaniment until somewhere around the three minute mark, where harmonies are set free to drift and a separate, more inviting piano line wends its way into the mix. It is a staggering four minutes and fifty-four seconds of music.
‘In The Dirt’ features another repeated refrain, this time based around echoing handclaps pushed to the outer reaches of the sound, leaving something far warmer in the middle from whence the song seems to re-gather itself before setting out on a more mournful manoeuvre, only for the claps to return, along with a heavier thud, just to further enhance the intensity. The delicate layering of sound, testing the impact of repetition and interrelated sounds suggests a more than minor jazz sensibility and some of the rangier moments on ‘All We Grow’ certainly defy easy labelling. ‘Action’ is the moment when the dark, brooding ‘There There’ similarities come into play, though the absence of a vocal ensures that the listener’s focus is all on how the instruments work with and against each other.
‘In The Stream’ spends its first three minutes sounding like it would fit in perfectly on ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ before opening up a little and indulging in the conjuring of a jazzier landscape, one which initially seems a little unnecessary but builds to something rather euphoric before Carey’s vocals return to seal the deal. The album’s title track pursues this further with Bill Frisell-esque guitar strands running across various instrumental passages, at times coalescing into an oddly warm drone.
Wisely, Carey holds back ‘Broken’ to form an epic finale which, though following the conventional ‘slow start, gradual build, massive wash of sound to finish’ formula, is utterly spellbinding. Hushed, almost muttered vocals talk of being “tired of life”, the reckoning bell of the repeated piano chug behind him echoing the sentiment before a dull roar crawls into earshot, gradually rising to a point where it tires itself out, only to usher in the final swathes of mournful instrumentation. I was left, headphones still clasped to my head, staring out the window at the greying skies both haunted and hugely satisfied. And ready for another go. ‘All We Grow’ rewards regular visits and, so subtle are some of the layers of sound, there’s a great deal to discover over time: time which will be very pleasantly spent indeed.
‘All We Grow’ is released by Jagjaguwar on August 30th.