Vetiver: The Errant Charm

Photo by Alissa Anderson

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.


The Errant Charm

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2011-06-14

One of the dangers of making mellow music is that the result could easily turn into soft rock -- you know, that easy listening style where nothing too unpleasant ever seems to happen. San Francisco’s Vetiver makes quiet music. At times, the songs on the band’s fifth full length album come perilously close to sounding like soft rock. But Vetiver usually manages to bring the music forward, using the beat to transport the listener from the ethereal to the real world.

Consider the hazy charm of “Fog Emotions”. On the surface level, one would never know it’s about the heartache of a failed relationship. Singer Andy Cabic gently details his troubles over muted instrumentals. However, the Latin beat propels the action forward. As the relationship changes and fades away, the rhythms get stronger. One gets the sense that the singer becomes more of an individual and a tougher human being, even though he never raises his voice or changes inflection. It’s a subtle phenomenon.

Even when Vetiver does turn it up, such as on the album’s loudest song, “Ride Ride Ride”, the band never turns things up too loud. There’s a sense of motion, but that engine purrs more than roars. The driver always remembers to check his mirrors and read the signs. It’s a safe trip. But 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. For example, the more than two-minute instrumental coda that closes the song “It’s Beyond Me” includes many odd sounds that appear momentarily and dissipate, and make one wonder is that a boat horn or the sound of a train in the distance. It may be both or neither. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the added touches that add interest and deepen the music. Something is always going on. Something is always changing.

Vetiver blends acoustic and electric instruments together so that one never knows where one sound begins and when another joins in or takes over. This is enhanced by Cabic and long time band co-producer Thom Monahan’s magic in the studio. They employ various effects to brighten, lengthen, and highlight different instruments -- including the timbre of the voice -- yet always focusing on the total sound. The 10 tracks on the album offer a consistent vibe from beginning to end, even though the cuts may be about completely different topics.

Mostly, the songs are about love -- particularly past relationships. This is young love, and while the narrator of such romantic treats as “Hard to Break” and “Worse for Wear” seems to have a more melancholic than passionate attitude towards his partner, his sighs reveal that the pleasures and pains were deeply felt. He may have a heart of glass, but as the title to another song reveals, it is “Soft Glass”. Just do not compare this music to soft rock. It may be smooth, but a closer examination of what is going on reveals profound variations. The album’s charm lies in its errant ways.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.