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Vetiver

To Find Me Gone

(Dicristina Stair Builders; US: 23 May 2006; UK: 22 May 2006)

The wonderful pleasures of folk pop

Ah, the pleasures of folk pop music… The familiar strumming and bowing of acoustic strings and quiet instruments playing off each other as if in close conversation plus the intimacy of human voices that gently breathe and phrase the lyrics. It’s all a mystery, like the first time one kisses a new lover. And as pop music tells us, one kiss leads to another until we’re swept up by the flush of emotions. But then it’s time to say goodnight and shut the door before things go too far.


The first nine tunes on To Find Me Gone) form one big, cohesive whole full of dreamy folk rock delights. Vetiver makes first rate folk pop music that can be as fine as a walk on a spring day with brightly colored wildflowers mixed in the meadow, sweet smells in the placid breezes, and newly hatched insects flying by. There are small fascinations and patterns everywhere, just like on the band’s new CD. The disc offers little information about what’s inside: no data about who plays on it, what instruments are employed, the length of the tracks, song lyrics, etc., but the obscurity—or more precisely the joy of discovering what’s there—is part of the overall charm.


Most of the songs start out with Andy Cabic playing a catchy guitar riff that hooks the listener before his voice comes out of the mist and starts to whisper into the listener’s ear. His vocals are always hushed. Details emerge. Sometimes there’s a narrative. Sometimes the words just form an associative dreamlike logic. There are some great one-liners that evoke meaningful absurdities (like the album’s title To Find Me Gone) or cinematic images that linger long after the tunes are over: “Confession is just an honest way of lying”, “Come we’ll go dive in the inkwell”,  “Nobody wants to see trouble where none should be”, “I lived off dust and tumbleweeds”, and so on. 


The songs share a consistency of tone, but they vary widely in many other ways. Violins, cellos, accordions, flutes, pedal steel, percussion, harmony vocals, and such may or may not join in. There are touchstones to other music. The lyrics mention Marc Bolan and Vashti Bunyan, but there are also some distinct resemblances to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, early Simon and Garfunkel, and the band’s website cites Fleetwood Mac from the ‘70s as an influence as well.


Thom Monanhan, who produced Vetiver’s first disc, also mixed and produced this one with a crystalline clarity that adds to the listener’s enjoyment. The separation of sounds and textures on cuts like “Been So Long”, You May Be Blue”, and “Maureen” would make this a good test disc for one to use for demonstration purposes before the purchase of a new sound system. The audio fidelity serves the music well. First, the material expresses a purity of soul and self that’s found in nature, which is why comparing it metaphorically to a spring day makes sense. Also, the very quietude of the tunes makes demands of both the silence and the sounds between the silences, such as when bells tinkle or one guitar joins in with another. The effect becomes much richer and more compelling.


The album does have one loud segment that lasts about two minutes long during the climax of “Red Lantern Girls”. This occurs about halfway into the 10th song of the 12-song album and the disc would be better off without it. Although Vetiver uses this discordance as a way to refocus the listener’s attention, it alters the mood too drastically so that the last two songs get lost. Perhaps it would have been better to resequence the disc and put “Red Lantern Girls” on last. The last two songs are “Won’t Be Me”, which recalls early Green on Red with its bouncy Southwestern rhythms and “Down at El Rio”, which features a slightly psychedelic languid dream that includes Carmen Miranda and a lemon tree. These two songs come off more as a coda than as a main part of the endeavor and thus end the album on a somewhat odd note.


Vetiver - Los Pajaros del Rio [2004]


Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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One of the advantages of making mellow music is that subtle touches can offer great pleasures. Vetiver invokes the strategy to great effect throughout the album.
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Tight Knit mines the tension between the desire for close community and Cabic's deep-in-the-bones need to keep moving, and the hazy world these songs inhabit is a compelling one.
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This does what a covers album should do. It pays homage to a band's influences while also illuminating the band's own creative process.
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