Release Date: Jun 14, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
On 2008's Things Of The Past, Vetiver's Andy Cabic covered songs recorded in the 1960s and 1970s - a variation on what he'd been doing as a songwriter since his 2005 debut. His latest does more, coloring his studied folk-rock with vintage keyboard drones, vocal effects, and drum machines that erase his tracks nicely. "Can't You Tell" starts out like a Beach House jam, then catches a breezy Latin groove.
Part of the inspiration behind Vetiver's fifth album was singer Andy Cabic's walks around the Richmond district of San Francisco. The buzzy California psych-rockers are certainly in no hurry on the mellow, atmospheric songs bookmarking the disc. Treading territory similar to Wilco's and working with producer Thom Monahan, they layer drum machine, vintage keyboard, organs and strings atop acoustic folk-rock textures and Cabic's soothing vocals.
After making their slickest, most easily digestible record to date with 2009’s Tight Knit, Vetiver didn’t turn back to their hazy, rustically psychedelic roots. On the contrary, Andy Cabic and his band took another big step in the direction of radio-ready pop/rock with 2011’s The Errant Charm. Together with longtime producer/collaborator Thom Monahan, Cabic created a completely smooth, totally air-tight sound that could have sounded joyless -- all layered guitars, shimmering keyboards, Tom Petty drums, and lush vocal harmonies -- but turns out to be a wonderfully sweet and pleasant listening experience instead.
Vetiver’s catalog dates back to 2004, spanning seemingly unbreakable ties to Devendra Banhart and freak-folk inclinations to country-tainted covers of obscure tracks to an eventual deal and release with Sub Pop. The accessibility of the mellow, beach-infused melodies of 2009’s Tight Knit spoke to a much wider audience than frontman Andy Cabic’s older material, but it was also criticized for being too safe. Instead of resting on his laurels and regurgitating the successes of Tight Knit, though, Cabic and producer Thom Monahan venture into uncharted territory for Vetiver’s fifth studio release, The Errant Charm.
That Vetiver’s modus operandi is breezy California rock should be obvious by now. Although Vetiver first came to light as members of Devendra Banhart’s freak-folk movement, Andy Cabic’s San-Francisco-based group never fit in with the freaks. The band shared Banhart’s groovy, hippie sensibility, but they didn’t share his global vision or his erratic tendencies.
One of the dangers of making mellow music is that the result could easily turn into soft rock—you know, that easy listening style where nothing too unpleasant ever seems to happen. San Francisco’s Vetiver makes quiet music. At times, the songs on the band’s fifth full length album come perilously close to sounding like soft rock. But Vetiver usually manages to bring the music forward, using the beat to transport the listener from the ethereal to the real world.
It must be hard making a record that sounds laid back.If you try too hard, you’re going to botch that blissful, sunny vibe, but if you swing the other way and get a little too horizontal, you’re going to slide into sleep-inducing territory. The laid back tightrope is one that Vetiver have always managed to straddle quite well, their last album Tight Knit expertly capturing the mood of a summer stroll around mainman Andy Cabic’s San Francisco hometown, brightened occasionally with a brisk foray into more forceful psych-rock territory. For the follow up, Vetiver have added a slightly different flavour to the mix in order to invigorate The Errant Charm.
Saying a record makes great background music is usually taken as damningly faint praise at best. Sure, the music sets a mood-- so what? But for something to fade gracefully into the scenery, it has to be finely crafted enough that nothing snags or jars. Unobtrusiveness isn't always a fault, nor is attention-grabbing necessarily a virtue. I realized this one afternoon last summer at a BBQ, where Vetiver's 2009 album Tight Knit was playing at low volume from another room, providing the perfect sonic wallpaper for the day: gentle folk songs drifting into not-quite-yacht rock-- wooden ship rock, maybe.
Whatever lingering connections to freak folk Vetiver still showed on 2009’s Tight Knit get shaken off altogether on The Errant Charm. While that means that frontman Andy Cabic and his cohorts are prone to fewer ambling instrumental and lyrical digressions on their latest album, it’s a questionable aesthetic decision for a band of Vetiver’s status. They didn’t develop the sizable cult followings that fellow freak-folk acts Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom did back when the subgenre had its ephemeral moment in vogue, but to move completely away from that style at this juncture leaves Vetiver as just another indie-pop band.
The ideal album to soundtrack wistful contemplation on balmy summer days. Garry Mulholland 2011 While chart pop may continue to trade on uplifting can-do sentiments, trancey synths and lyrics about discos, indie-rock is definitely in a wistful phase. The various sensitive souls that make up the likes of Bon Iver, Elbow, Midlake and Fleet Foxes may not all have beards, but they sound like they do, along with chunky jumpers and a furrowed brow forged by many years of staring into the distant horizon of a leafy sun-dappled field, refusing to wear shades, and sighing a great deal.
A lot of artists use a similar formula when it comes to putting out records: write an accessible, likeable debut and develop a solid fan base, then start getting experimental when you know you’ve got them hooked and have some artistic leeway. Sub Pop indie act Vetiver did it backwards. Their 2004 self-titled debut pinned Vetiver into the “freak folk” genre with artists like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, both of whom guested on a handful of the record’s tracks.