Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Sean Carey evoking the imagery of Winnie the Pooh isn’t surprising considering recent developments. He gained Oscar buzz for a song he wrote alongside fellow affable white folk dude Dierks Bentley, consistently posts about how great his wife is on Instagram and T-Swift calls herself a fan. So Hundred Acres is right on target for its polished, neatly trimmed sonic surroundings. Well, it would be if you hadn’t heard Carey’s first album. Range of Light, his 2014 debut, was a kitten-soft folk album, yes, but it held some fascinating experimental trappings. It was percussion heavy, brimming with strange, humming electronics and some whacked out short stories tucked between the velvet harmonies. So Hundred Acres would rightfully be fit for a “sell out” label, if the entire production wasn’t more coherent than its older brother. But does a sense of narrative smoothness make up for a lack of adventurousness? Carey’s songwriting ability has never been in doubt, thanks to his long-standing partnership with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Though their trajectories seem to be running in reverse. As Vernon dives deeper into hip-hop sensibilities and mournful saxophone solos, Carey is winding himself up to score the next Pixar classic. In terms of sheer prettiness and comfort, few albums are likely to match Hundred Acres this year. There are a handful of singularly stunning moments that peak upwards like the sun rising over one of Carey’s fly-fishing spots. The title unfurls from a twangy bit of folk into a shuffling, shimmering beauty as soon as Carey starts imagining that parcel of land to tramp through. Violins float downward like down feathers and Carey’s voice is multitracked into oblivion, creating a cocoon of warmth. Australian singer Gordi pops up all over the album but steals the show from Carey on “Yellowstone” with her voice poking up like an infinitely less depressed Chad VanGaalen. And “Have You Stopped to Notice” has what seems to be a backwards sampled flute rippling between gently clattering percussion that’s dangerously relaxing. Hundred Acres is not backpacking music despite the naturalistic theme, unless you want to have your sweet dreams on a pile of scree. But the key quandary presents itself again during the pleasant-but-not-spectacular moments. Hundred Acres is never not pretty, and Range of Light had a few duds, but has Carey gone too far into the realm of polished folk-pop? Thankfully, this isn’t like the recent First Aid Kit album. Instead, Carey does strike a neat balancing act, never becoming preachy or cloying as he tramps and relaxes across the wilderness. Hundred Acres never hits the stratospheric heights of Range of Light, lacking the stunning murder ballad “Alpenglow” or the clock-work gorgeousness of “Glass/Film,” but its overwhelming feeling of comfort can’t be dismissed. That’s certainly true with closer “Meadow Song,” the album’s best song. It begins with a Coldplay-like jitter of electronics before a string quartet somberly fades into the mix. The strings are simple, much like Carey’s voice and lyrics, but the way they’re layered adds oceans of depth to the sound. It’s cozy, like the rest of the album, but holds unto something even more powerful that the rest of the record never quite taps into. Last summer, I spent a warm July day hiking Buffalo Jump Plateau with a friend, all around us the beauty of Montana’s ever-flowing plains and the signals of not too distant forest fires. She mentioned it was a nearly scary experience, simply being surrounded by miles of pristine land, ready to swallow you up. I agreed, but felt more thrilled by the prospect. By the time a singular violin melody cascades through the track, “Meadow Song” grasps and controls that exact sentiment. An ease in smallness, an acceptance of insignificance. Hopefully his growing fame doesn’t ever take away that sense of wonder.