Vetiver frontman Andy Cabic keeps good musical company: Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Hope Sandoval, and My Bloody Valentine’s Colm O’Ciosoig all appear on his band’s self-titled debut. Large as these artists may loom in the liner notes, the album is clearly Cabic’s show. Banhart, despite being a full-fledged band member, only co-wrote two of the eleven tracks, and sings backup only occasionally, and Newsom is confined to a few harp flourishes on a single track. While the largely insignificant guest-spots may disappoint those hoping for a companion piece to Rejoicing in the Hands or The Milk-Eyed Mender, Vetiver’s debut is a worthwhile affair in its own right. Even if it doesn’t reach the same level as the aforementioned albums, it’s a pleasant enough addition to this year’s seemingly unending stream of great indie-folk releases.
For better or for worse, Andy Cabic doesn’t possess the ear-grabbing voice of a Banhart or a Newsom; rather, he’s something of a vocal everyman, understated and almost dangerously indistinct. His songwriting follows the same pattern, offering only a limited amount of instant appeal, but solid enough to get under the skin over time. Upbeat tracks like “Farther On” and “Without a Song” sound effortlessly breezy and joyous, while the more dour “Angels’ Share,” an unexpected snapshot of domestic violence, sidesteps potential schlockiness to deliver a surprising amount of pathos and melancholy. Limitations aside, Vetiver’s debut exudes a sense of warmth and gentleness that seems to stem partly from idyllic subject matter and partly from the very same sort of reservedness that at first seems to push things toward blandness. There’s a charm here that recalls the stoned, pastoral folk of the late-'60s; one can just as easily picture Cabic and Co. performing on their front porch as in a darkened concert venue.
While Andy Cabic may have room to grow as a singer and songwriter, Vetiver have definitely got their musical approach down pat. The album is filled with lush acoustic textures (almost every track features violin and cello, courtesy of band members Jim Gaylord and Alissa Anderson, respectively) and unassumingly effective arrangements. Others may have Cabic beat in terms of personality and originality, but the seasonally-appropriate warmth and peacefulness of Vetiver’s debut is certainly nothing to scoff at.
By Michael Cramer