Being a member of Bon Iver is equal amounts blessing and curse. The positives are obvious: success, fame, Grammys, critical acclaim oozing out your ass. But the biggest negative (particularly for everyone involved in the band not named Justin Vernon) is that any other music you make will be subject to constant Bon Iver comparisons, likely for the length of your career. (That falsetto sounds an awful lot like Justin Vernon! Acoustic guitars—what a rip-off!)
Luckily for Sean Carey, the inevitable comparisons are moot when you’re a good songwriter in your own right—a fact capably demonstrated on the Bon Iver percussionist/vocalist’s debut LP, 2010’s stunning All We Grow. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t influenced by the epic ambient-folk Vernon perfected on For Emma; Carey’s loop-based compositions share a similar bedroom-produced warmth, even as they stretched into expansive waters hinting at Steve Reich and Talk Talk. But All We Grow is way more than simply a patchwork of influences, cementing S. Carey as a moniker to watch out for, even as the Bon Iver name brand continued to infinitely expand (see: Kanye, Music Tabloid Feuding, etc.).
Unfortunately, the four-track Hoyas EP fails to strike a similar chord. While All We Grow was pieced together, layer by layer, between Bon Iver tour stretches, it never felt like a patchwork. Where Bon Iver’s For Emma was the sound of a man baring his soul in total isolation, limiting his sonic tools to match his emotional solitude, All We Grow was the inverse: the sound of a man baring his soul in total isolation but using that solitude as a gateway to maximalism. It was immaculately crafted (overflowing with keys and vocal harmonies and percussion), but never overstuffed. In comparison, Hoyas sounds slick, monochromatic and even a bit stale.
Recorded over a two-year span, the EP was created almost exclusively on a laptop. It replaces All We Grow’s organic dynamism with synths, beats, bleeps, blips and (as if we needed anymore) loads of thick auto-tune. The template gets stale as the album’s 18 minutes creep along: “Inspir” buries Carey’s lovely, aching voice in thick fog, floating over dubstep-styled vocal samples (like underwater R&B divas slipping into acid trips) and repetitive beats. But, unsurprisingly, Carey works wonders when he expands beyond Hoyas’ laptop confines. With opener “Two Angles,” he’s crafted his finest track to date: an absorbing, slow-building churn of glittery, jittery beats, spacey synth sprinkles, droning guitars and muted trumpets.