Album Reviews

Vetiver – The Errant Charm

(Bella Union) UK release date: 13 June 2011

The June release of Vetiver’s fifth album The Errant Charm canhardly be coincidental. This is an album purpose-built for, and muchenhanced by, summer listening: to be absolutely precise: about 6pm, asthe sun starts to dip slightly and a quiet melancholy descends. Youprobably feel you already know exactly what it sounds like, and youwouldn’t be far wrong. The Errant Charm is a piece of woozy, low-keyCaliforniana, albeit informed by British janglers like The La’sand by a shoegazey approach to production. On the chirpy,organ-driven Can’t You Tell, Andy Cabic even sings about the brightblue sky and letting the sun warm its way to him. In fact, this is arare moment of lyrical clarity: so submerged are Cabic’s vocalsbeneath washes of guitars and keyboards throughout the album that theyare often a felt presence rather than the focus. It takes a littlestraining to hear the ten rather conventional, well-made songs lurkingbeneath the haze.

The San Francisco band has gone through several line-up changesover the years, but it is chiefly Cabic’s vehicle, and The ErrantCharm was built from scraps and ideas he took into the studio withproducer and long-time collaborator Thom Monaghan. The result is analbum that puts atmosphere first, establishing its tone of blissed-outmellowness from opener It’s Beyond Me onwards. This is followed bythe warmly immersive acoustic strumming of Worse For Wear, which endswith Cabic observing that “all happiness is sad”, which rather sums upthe album’s mixture of sunshine and pathos.

This mood is more or less maintained throughout: the biggestdeparture comes with Ride Ride Ride, a chugging glam rock boogiecomplete with guitar solo and backing vocals. It’s by-the-numbersstuff, but no less fun for it, and Cabic’s vocal, though still hardlyextrovert, actually takes on some colour here. He swiftly retreatsback into the mists, though, for Faint Praise (whose dreamy haze callsto mind their sometime labelmates Beach House) and the swellingcountry march of Soft Glass.

By having its most contemplative tracks at the start and end, thealbum leaves an impression of being a largely downtempo affair. Thisis deceptive: the middle section, recorded in a rockier full-bandsetup, has plenty of spring in its step, driven along by tambourinesand drum machines (on Right Away), by jingle-jangle guitars andFleetwood Mac-flavoured drums (on lead single Wonder Why). FogEmotion – whose title is another, even more concise summary of thealbum – has an Bo Diddley/bossa nova beat overlaid with JohnnyMarr-ish flanged guitar, creating a kind ofpost-punk-elevator-music bittersweetness.

Over seven years and five albums Vetiver have changed almost beyondrecognition from the band that used to open for “freak folk” merchantslike Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. The ErrantCharm is far from a kooky album, nor indeed is it a particularlyoriginal or arresting one, but as a soundtrack to sun-soakedintrospection it discharges its duties very respectably. Cabic andMonaghan deliver an album of relaxed, low-definition loveliness, andit’s hard to begrudge them that.

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More on Vetiver
Vetiver – Complete Strangers
Vetiver @ XOYO, London
Vetiver – The Errant Charm
Vetiver – Tight Knit
Vetiver @ Spitz, London