Vetiver: anthology of perfection

San Fransisco band Vetiver presents indie folk at its best

By Taylor Toothman |

I was recently introduced to the Vetiverse, and there’s no turning back. For those of you who don’t know, the Vetiverse encompasses the wildly wonderful San Fransisco indie folk band Vetiver and all its fans. Since their March 23 show at Café Eleven, I’ve attacked the group’s discography with a religious fervor, and, as it happens, I’ve discovered that every song in Vetiver’s collection is a pretty much a masterpiece. Overstatement? Maybe, but not by much.

You’d think a band that pumps out four albums and two EPs (plus world tours) in five years might not really be taking the time to perfect each song before they release it. Au contraire. With each album, Vetiver has experimented and developed and added layer upon layer to my disappointment that they actually existed for so long without my knowing it. In the wake of their fourth LP, Tight Knit, let’s take a look at the history of the band you will probably be obsessed with in about 10 minutes.

2004 — Andy Cabic and his posse unveil their self-titled debut album, much to the delight of indie folk lovers everywhere. “Oh Papa” lulls me into an ethereal stupor so I kind of space out and forget the song is happening. “Farther On” bobs along pleasantly, though the line “bored to tears but dry inside” makes me depressed and thirsty. “Los Parajos del Rio” is in Spanish; I have no idea what Cabic is singing, but it is muy bonita.

2005 — Vetiver releases the EP Between, featuring three studio tracks — an acoustic version of “Been So Long” (to be discussed later), “Save Me a Place” and “Busted” — and two songs recorded at performances. Of the live recordings — although “Belles” is amazing — I prefer “Maureen” because its honesty and shuffling melody hints at early Harry Nilsson (a personal favorite).

2006 — To Find Me Gone is unleashed. One of Vetiver’s best-known songs, “Been So Long,” kicks off the album in a way that says “kick off your shoes and play checkers in a rocking chair at Cracker Barrel.” The melody’s minimalism highlights the group’s penchant for dreamy ambience. Hollow drums and droning electronic tanpura give it a Brad-Pitt-sneaking-into-Tibet feel, while lyrics like “fate has a way of showing you where you belong, oh, it’s been so long” are true and optimistic without being sappily inspirational. The guitar-as-bass on “Idle Ties” is inventive and upbeat; it’s my favorite track if I had to pick one. They whip out a harmonica for the haggard, has-been bandito tale “I Know No Pardon,” which is quiet and sad — reminds me a lot of Hank Williams Jr.’s “Blues Man.”

2008 — Cabic pays homage to 13 of his favorite artists with the album Thing of the Past. Highlights include Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be in a Good Place Now” and Garland Jeffrey’s “Lon Cheney,” for which they finally roll out a piano, an under-utilized instrument on their albums. Vetiver’s take on Derroll Adams’ “Roll On, Babe” is a mix of John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel and the Kinks (sounds weird, but trust me, it works), and Michael Hurley’s “Blue Driver” is a load of fun, like thumping down a dirt road in an old pickup truck. This CD is a great compilation of little-known tunes.

2008 — Fans who couldn’t get enough of Vetiver’s covers got the EP More of the Past, featuring five bonus songs not included on the full-length album. The adaptation of the Wizards’ “See You Tonight” is straight-up 60s mod-rock, unlike any other song they’ve recorded. It’s punchy and electric without being overproduced. The rest of the set consists of twangy rockabilly that’s more bouncy than most of Vetiver’s original work, but it seems Destiny wrote the intimate EP closer, Gordon Bok’s “Hills of Isle Au Haut,” just for Andy Cabic. A traditional campfire fisherman shanty, it is perfectly suited for a voice as smooth and precise as his.

2009 — This brings us up to date, with Vetiver’s latest full-length CD, Tight Knit, released not two months ago. These 10 tracks expand from the group’s twinkly sound and offer a few more up-tempo numbers, like “More of This,” “The Other Side” and “Rolling Sea,” which moseys along like the theme song for a summer road trip. As soon as I heard the triangle and shuffling guitar on “Sister,” all I could hear for the rest of the song was “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. I like it, but I get too distracted by images of little Jerry O’Connell running and tripping in front of that train, praying he doesn’t die before he hits puberty.

The unfathomable infiniteness of deep space is hard to capture. Even pictures can’t do it justice. The “2001: A Space Odyssey” theme tried, but it’s too epically camp now to be taken seriously. Well, I don’t know how they did it, but Vetiver has somehow penetrated the black abyss with their swarming synths and delicate guitar picking. “Down From Above,” I’m convinced, was written from a galactic hovercraft looking down on Earth. It would be great during a NOVA documentary about the constellations on the disc cover.

Tight Knit closes with “At Forest Edge.” Cabic is obviously referring to a magical forest here, the kind that twinkles with exciting hidden secrets. The sounds swoosh in and out as Cabic “ahs” variations of the melody. Is it just me, or does the rambling, plucking beat remind you of Disney’s “Robin Hood”? It sounds like they’re singing from the other side of the forest and the wind is carrying the echo over to my side. I love it. I listen to it over and over.

In conclusion, pay close attention to Vetiver. They are everything and more.

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