Lead and founding member of Vetiver, Andy Cabic sings in a quiet, conversational voice on the band’s latest release. He rarely raises the volume or stretches to hit a note. Cabic is smooth rather than slick. He lets the sound of his voice soothe the listener. His self-penned songs are reflective in a positive sense in that they look backward as a way of dealing with present realities. Up on High offers a fresh perspective on enjoying life. What we once felt then is just as true today. Time just happens.
“A door shuts quick / imagine that,” Cabic sings nostalgically on one track. “What’s past is past,” he notes on another. Things may have been better back then. Or maybe one just saw life differently when younger. The sweetness of memory causes thoughts to ripple and shimmer. Looking within is a way of looking forward. The music suggests natural movement, like that of a babbling brook, tree leaves in a breeze, or rolling ocean waves, that always shift while remaining constant.
Cabic wrote the songs on acoustic guitar and recorded it in the high desert of California with sparse acoustic accompaniment before taking it to the studio to complete. He has said that he wanted to recreate the music of this youth, the jangle-pop Americana of the 1980s, when groups such as R.E.M., the Feelies, and such ruled the indie underground. No one would mistake Up on High for Murmur or The Good Earth, but tracks like “Swaying” and “Wanted, Never Asked” sound like lost tracks from when such alternative acts still crashed on their fans couches and their music was only played on college radio. It was a heady time, to be sure.
George Harrison’s solo work also seems to be an influence, especially on such tracks as “To Who Knows Where” with its Eastern inspirations via a slide guitar and the gentle mantra-like repetitions of “Lost (In Your Eyes)”. There’s also a shared playfulness to its cosmic concerns, reminiscent of Harrison. “Bright as a streetlight / louder than love,” Cabic notes on the opening cut, “The Living End”. He’s not making grand proclamations. He’s just noting the signposts along life’s journeys with his tongue in cheek.
It’s this good humor which makes the music so charming. The ease by which Cabic conveys his ruminations implies he is talking to himself, but we are all in on the joke. He’s persuasive by not trying to persuade. Vetiver offers a teasing mischievousness in the music, as well as its lyrics, through bouncy rhythms and off-kilter tempos to shake things up. There’s roguish magic to the lightheartedness of the album as a whole, such as that of a first kiss.
Up on High is much more than just a peck on the cheek. The undulating cadences promise more than simply embracing. But this is a more spiritual than a corporeal blossoming. Vetiver gets intimate by addressing one person at a time. This music is for dancing alone in one’s mind rather than with a companion. We are each of us our own partner. We just have to remember all of the different selves we ever were that still exist in our current identity.