Vetiver frontman Andy Cabic has been warming up over the years, in a few different ways. For one, his band has been building towards its own, unique sound for a while now. Ever since their self-titled debut in 2004, which included the guitar work of Devendra Banhart, the band has been moving away from insular and mannered folk and toward a more accessible sound that meshes better with Cabic’s sun-drenched ‘70s influences. And Vetiver has achieved an accessibility, has allowed the listeners closer, without making their music overly simple.
But as the music has slowly built its way toward us, Cabic has also warmed up lyrically and thematically. After the forlorn, though still excellent To Find Me Gone, Cabic gave us a surprisingly charming collection of covers on Things of the Past, and now his band has returned with Tight Knit, their third full-length of original material and first album for Sub Pop. And while laying his influences bare on a covers record may have tipped his hand as to what Tight Knit would sound like, there is little about this album that is predictable.
Most surprising here is how Cabic has flipped the coin emotionally on these songs. Rather than living in his solitary nature, the singer starts off this album by trying to bring people in, to gather around him those he finds important. “Rolling Sea”, with a bouncy acoustic guitar line carrying the tune, sounds like a hazy, late-summer afternoon, with people gathered on a porch or in a field maybe drinking a beer and lazing away the day. But that image is just an ideal for Cabic, who is actually imploring friends to pause their busy schedules once in a while and just enjoy each other’s company.
From there, we get “Sister” where Cabic is now trying to draw family close to him. Clearly there’s been a rift, and sister has left home. In fact, the singer seems to be unsure about exactly what happened, but he is sure that time heals all wounds. The music behind him, a quiet shuffle of thumped bass notes and light percussion, belies his hope of reconciliation a little as it sounds like a whispered plea, like Cabic is on the phone just a room away from parents who don’t know he’s calling. But it is the hope we see in him that makes the song bittersweet.
“Everyday” has a similar hope, as in one that might go unfulfilled. This bouncy, sand-worn pop song has Cabic pining after a lover he’s had to leave behind, perhaps to tour. “I always seem to make something out of nothing, but I can’t make you appear,” he sings late in the track. But he’s not kicking the dirt in self-pity. Instead, in all of these early tracks, he is looking forward to all these reunions. Where on earlier Vetiver records, he might have pined over absences, here he is living in the optimism of reunions. It’s a nice turn for Cabic, and it suits the band’s brighter sound.
Tight Knit, though, is not all about coming together. The album instead mines a much more interesting tension between the desire for close community and the deep in the bones need to keep moving. Cabic’s nomadic itch takes over halfway through the record, so while his hopes to unite with family and friends remain, he starts to come to grips with how his own nature sometimes makes that impossible.
The band makes this turn on the album work very nicely. Cabic himself is aware enough to keep his travel songs from being woeful. He’s not looking for sympathy on “Through the Front Door” when he feels pulled out into the world once again. The wandering, pastoral wave of “Down From Above” finds Cabic at his most lost, at the beginning of this new journey, shrouded in a fog of tumbling guitars and far-off organs. And as Cabic travels, so does the band on Tight Knit. There’s the tight sunny pop of “More of This”, or the funked-out bass and horn section on “Another Reason to Go”, or the ghostly stretching atmosphere of closer “At Forest Edge”. The album seems to stretch out the further Cabic gets from the community he so clearly loves, and then tightens up when he gets closer to those people. In that way, Tight Knit beautifully navigates the tricky waters between loose feel and tight song craft.
And the album rarely misfires on its breezy, summer glide. “On the Other Side” might be the only exception, as it is the only moment where Cabic seems at least a little self-congratulatory about being outside the norm, which is, apparently, noisy and competitive and crowded and nonsensical. But it is a minor misstep on a very good album. Tight Knit‘s lush songs lets us another step closer to Cabic and company as they try to reconcile movement with permanence, and home not with a place but with a collection of people. And the closer we get to this band, the more they let us in, the better they seem to be.
// Notes from the Road
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