S. Carey

High Noon Saloon Presents

S. Carey

Gordi, Hope Simulator

Tuesday, March 20th 2018

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

This event is 18 and over

S. Carey
S. Carey
At its heart, Hundred Acres - the third full-length from Wisconsin singer/songwriter S. Carey - finds him grounded, comfortable 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 allow for ideas to remain uncomplicated while laying bare the intricacies of life.

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 regular crew and contributions from the likes of Rob Moose (yMusic), Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) and Sophie Payten (Gordi).

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. The songwriter intentionally unburdened himself from a more complicated palate for the ten songs that comprise the new album. This slight modification to his approach has the effect of bringing the content of the work much closer to a living reality.

Perhaps no song better illustrates this ethos than “More I See,” an exultant and strummy, snare-on-3 gratification piece. This is echoed by Carey who says “The best way to understand this song is through the lyrics ‘When I’m naked, deciding… no I ain’t surviving,” meaning you can just live to live.” A cairn on the trail to inner happiness, the song has an undeniable appeal rooted in this uncomplicated idea, superbly realized with a cinematic and understated drama.

On “Fool’s Gold,” Carey’s signature minimalism is intact with an acoustic guitar acting as the backbone, propped up ever so slightly by ambient keys and a lilting slide. The song showcases the difference between writing on a guitar versus a piano, as he has traditionally done. Says Carey, “This song is what started the whole record . . . everything came out of it and the vibe it created.”

Thematically, the album is a poetic treatise on what is truly necessary in life, a surprisingly utilitarian art project that articulates vitality. The simplification of songwriting didn’t arrive out of thin air, it came from the same desire for daily life to be unburdened of anxiety and tethered by love, to reach for the utopia of simplicity. It is a way to say that returning to a more simple life, if even just a little, can heal wounds and mend the cracks. This is leadership by example rather than intervention, and it starts at home.

Simply stated, over the course of three albums, two EPs, and a few one-off singles, S. Carey has proven to be a reliable source of beauty. It’s a safe claim to make that something so reliably beautiful can also be called enduring. In an era when the shelf life of art is typically measured in minutes, this accomplishment puts him in a rare group of artists, seemingly unconcerned (but not indifferent) to passing trends.
On the farm in rural Australia where Sophie Payten - AKA Gordi - grew up, there's a paddock that leads down to a river. A few hundred metres away up the driveway of the property named "Alfalfa" sits another house, which belongs to her 93-year-old grandmother. The rest, she says, "is just beautiful space. And what else would you fill it with if not music?"
And so she did, first tinkling away in her hometown of Canowindra (population 2,381) on the out of tune piano her mother had been given as a wedding present, and then on the acoustic guitar she got for her 12th birthday. As it turned out though, space wasn't a luxury she'd be afforded for long. At the school she went to just after that same birthday, she shared a dorm room with 26 other girls, listening to Aled Jones on her Discman at night to drown out their chatter. Not that she minded. "It was like a massive sleepover every night," she says. And besides, her love of music didn't take long to follow her there.
Gordi's first foray into songwriting came in the form of performances at the school's weekly chapel. She'd tell her friends they were written by other artists to ensure they gave honest feedback - though given she was pulling lines from One Tree Hill for lyrics about experiences she was yet to actually have, that feedback wasn't always glowing. It wasn't until she started writing about what was happening around her, the friendships she was building and, as is inevitable in the tumult of growing up, breaking, that the chrysalis of the music she's making now - a brooding, multi-layered blend of electronica and folk, with lyrics that tend to avoid well-trodden paths - began to form. "I often find that writing about platonic relationships," she says, "can be a great deal more powerful than writing about romantic ones."
"Heaven I Know," the first taste of Gordi's debut album Reservoir, is an example of just that. With the breathy chant of "123" chugging along beneath the song's sparse melody and melancholic piano chords, "Heaven I Know" gazes at the embers of a fading friendship. "Cause I got older, and we got tired," she sings, as synthetic twitches, sweeping brass and distorted samples bubble to the surface, "Heaven I know that we tried."
"I have a really close friend, and she moved to New York last April," explains Gordi, "and I was absolutely devastated. I sort of don't have anyone else like that in my life. A few months in, it was just getting so hard, we both had so much going on. Amongst all this, I had a really vivid dream - not that we fought dramatically, I simply got older, and we stopped calling each other, stopped writing to each other and we slowly grew apart. I was struck by the tragedy and simplicity of it and how it happens to everybody at various stages of life. With a friendship, you almost throw more at it than you would a romantic partner, because when a friendship breaks it's so much more heart-breaking. So it was sort of like we'd thrown everything at it, and in this alternate reality that I dreamed about, we just gave up."
The ramifications of loss ripple throughout the album, which the 24-year-old wrote and recorded in Wisconsin, Reykjavik, Los Angeles, New York and Sydney during snatched moments while finishing a six year long medicine degree and international touring commitments. Payten produced two of the tracks herself ("Heaven I Know" & "I'm Done"), and co-produced the rest alongside Tim Anderson (Solange, Banks, Halsey), Ben McCarthy, Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, PJ Harvey) and Alex Somers (Sigur Ros).
"Long Way," on which her contralto vocals are layered on top of each other as the sound of a ticking clock lurks underneath, begs of someone, "Can you hear my voice in your bones again? Can you be with me like you were back then?" It's the first track on the album, and the last song she wrote in the green notebook her parents gave her when she was still at school. There's a sense of loss too on "I'm Done," though this time it's something she's come to accept. "It feels good to say I'm over you / and mean it more and more each time. / Lock my secrets behind open doors / 'cause without you I'll do just fine." It's about as close to a stripped-back acoustic song as Gordi's willing to create, though it sits comfortably alongside beat-heavy electronic numbers. Her songs shift and mutate just as you think you've got a hold of them. You're as likely to hear the squeak of her finger sliding down a guitar fret as you are a shuddering sample, and an organic trumpet sound will be injected with a jagged vocal loop.
But it's not just loss which comes under the microscope in Reservoir. More so, it's the journey that particular theme takes when aboard the vehicle of time. The interaction of time and loss is explored throughout, starting with album opener "Long Way". "Myriad", a delicately layered track which reaches a drumless climax, delves further, "Dissolve your sorrow / In my skin and bone / Take my tomorrow / It is yours to own". Even the infectious single "On My Side" questions the prolonging of grievances because of a hesitation to communicate, which ultimately stems from a fear of loss. "Can We Work It Out" similarly opens up on inner conflict.
Boiled down, the running thread of the album is its lyrics, the importance and impact of which cannot be understated. "Lyrics to me are everything," says Gordi. "Music is kind of what encases this story that you're trying to tell. The music is obviously what makes people fall in love with a song first, but what eventually speaks to people, whether they know it or not, is the actual words that are being said." Gordi's lyrics are stark, honest and soul-searching, which are elevated by the album's intricate and careful musical arrangements. Like the contemporary artists such as Fleet Foxes, Beth Orton and Laura Marling as well as "the trifecta" of Billy Joel, Carole King and James Taylor that she listened to with her mum growing up - she's unafraid to sit in contemplative melancholy. It's what the album title is about. And in the contemplative melancholy remains a conviction that manifests itself through Gordi's memorable melodies and ambitious production, mastered by pioneers like Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens and Sufjan Stevens.
"The name Reservoir, it's that thing that you can't describe, that space that anxious people would probably live their life in. It's actually an expression my friend and I use. If I'm really down one day, I'll say, 'Oh I'm a bit in the reservoir today'. You're mulling everything over, and you're sitting in all these thoughts and feelings. In order to be able to write a song I need to go to that place, but I couldn't live a functional life if I spent all my time in there."
Writing music, in fact, is the way Gordi lifts herself out of the Reservoir. "Writing music has always been and will remain my therapy, my process and my way of communicating," she explains. "I don't write songs by someone else's prescription, I write to fill my own need. I get this tightness in my chest, and nothing will make it go away other than trying to write lyrics or sitting down at a piano and playing it, and it's like a medicine. If I have a good session of that, then that tightness and that weight just totally lifts. It just centers me, and gets the things that are riddled through my mind out on paper. And then I can leave them there."
Hope Simulator
Hope Simulator
It’s late autumn or early winter or maybe almost spring. The crowd is sparse because the college kids didn’t come out, or because the show starts too late, or maybe because the show starts too early. Outside, someone needs some change, someone needs a cigarette and someone is talking about their band or a friend’s band or a band they heard once. The bar is sticky with spilled Jameson’s from shots knocked back too quickly, whatever New Glarus seasonal is sloshing from the tap, and wilted limes discarded from a Captain and Coke chugged for a rush just before the live music kicks in. The sound man is texting, the bartender flirting, the doorman fidgets.
Was that the night I met Jeremiah Nelson, at the Slipper Club on Main Street in Madison over a decade ago? Or was that another night — standing on Mifflin after a show at the Momo, or sitting on the Mickey’s patio during his Honky Tonk Tuesdays residency?
Plug into the Madison music scene at any point in recent history and you’re bound to have heard Jeremiah. He is prolific: instrumental in every sense of the word, known to morph into a producer or graphic designer or session player when situations warrant. His lyrics are profoundly poetic whether crooned along with a soaring violin riff or warped against crashing waves of sound. Traversing the Jeremiah Nelson discography is like getting lost in the city you lived in once, a long time ago; utterly familiar in one sense, yet fully resonant with a vaguely hopeful feeling that only ever happens by accident — going forward without understanding, finding the way without a map.
“Haunting” is a word that comes up a lot, but Jeremiah Nelson is no ghost. He is the living, breathing evolution of what it means to be a true musician today or 100 years ago. There is a Jeremiah who plots notes onto lines and parses words to fit. He may noodle a melody on the guitar until it forms a feasible track. There could be a dog or girl or day or job that inspires a chorus. Over the years, albums emerge like clear lakes steadily fed by tributaries of Midwestern moments. But there is also Jeremiah sculpting sound and rhythm into something resembling a vessel, then filling that vessel with meaning and leaving it, unexplained, somewhere someone might find it, study it and fill it with their own meaning. Rather than letting tributaries carve their predictable path, he will dot a majestic soundscape with digital relics. He’ll carefully chisel away at rock and folk and pop and all of their worn tropes and half-buried meanings until something resembling “modern music” emerges.
Enter Hope Simulator Pro, the latest scenic overlook above his expansive talent. What is there to see here? Not Patchwork-era Jeremiah Nelson, with earnest angst seamlessly stitched together by catchy riffs. Not the defiant yet forlorn pulse found on Drugs to Make You Sober. The Whittier EP briefly foreshadowed this detour, but Hope Simulator Pro is mostly untraveled territory. Listen to Charades, the new album, and you will meet a version of Jeremiah Nelson at every point of interest. Glitchy electronica coursing through stories that spark above the dark songs they inhabit. What is that sound? It is Jeremiah Nelson, now.
Tonight I will go to The Frequency, which now stands in the same spot as that erstwhile Slipper Club, and it will be one of those nights where anything could happen just as probably as nothing could happen. The show will start on time, or very late. The venue will be totally packed, or pretty empty. The sidewalk banter will spill into the doorman’s spiel and someone will ask for more something in the monitor and then the lights will go down and Jeremiah Nelson will play, with his friends, songs old and soundscapes new. I am experiencing music differently now than I did all those years ago — because now music is a different experience. Google a song and the lyrics come up. There’s no longer a “bathroom on the right” because it always will have been “bad moon on the rise.” Moments are captured haphazardly on phones and shared on virtual timelines. Opinions can be swayed by well-placed keywords. Attendance can be predicted by click-through rates. The album may have leaked online, or I listened to the whole thing on Stereogum or NPR’s “First Listen” or the artist’s own site before it made its way to Strictly Discs, let alone the merch table. Twitter might be full of disgruntled fans tweeting about how that one song somehow didn’t make it onto the set list.
Oh, look, there’s a Facebook event, and nobody else I know is going.
But I’ll go to the show regardless.
Now more than ever, I want the experience — something unexpected in the altogether expected. When you get to the scenic overlook, you can take a selfie or you can take the path down through the canyon.
See you in the canyon.
Venue Information:
High Noon Saloon
701A E. Washington Ave
Madison, WI, 53703

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