It’s that interminable time of the year when these muted wintry days have gone on too long, the cold refusing to relax its grip. We muddle forward awaiting renewal. There are tastes every now and then, like when the trees splinter the light, grown bold and brighter, near day’s end. For me, that glow conjures the shape hope might take were it to exist in more corporeal forms than a feathery fluttering in the chest.
S. Carey’s new song “Break Me Open” also signals a sort of thaw. The track begins like a heartbeat, a piano key lightly tapping a slow thump-thump-thump as synths fill the space around that legato rhythm. His voice, delivered in lengthy sustains, feels subdued. But soon vocoder-tinged harmonies join in and a larger sound erupts.
Carey, who in certain circles is better known for being Bon Iver’s drummer and backing vocalist, has crafted a dulcet solo career outside of that project. He builds quietly sumptuous music. On “Break Me Open,” he layers texture into the brief song—a slight horn arrangement, courtesy of CJ Camerieri, joins the piano and synths near the halfway mark, feeling close to an unfurling.
“Unfurling” might best categorize Carey’s sound. He has a penchant for crafting dreamy, almost woozy, soundscapes that encapsulate insularity while searching for escape. (“Have You Stopped to Notice” off his 2018 album Hundred Acres remains a favorite.) I couldn’t help but get lost in the gorgeous tangle of Hundred Acres when it arrived in the early months of that year. As with the timing of his latest release, another winter backdrop framed my listening experience, making it difficult to separate his songs from the beautiful thaw they expressed.
In its winding dissolve, “Break Me Open” spins around love—its “past, present, and future,” Carey said in a statement. It details the frozen interior, that bewildering sense of numbness that has encased so many of us since the start of the pandemic. “Well I sat for days/ Wondering how to pick up the pieces,” he sings in falsetto. Yet, rather than succumb to that chill, Carey makes a promise: “Keep my head, keep my head above/ I won’t let—let you down.”
Until spring breaks forth, “Break Me Open” captures the sensation well. When those trumpets surface for a brief interlude near the song’s end before fading into the mix of prismatic synths, it feels like a glimpse of warmer days. For us all.