Published Oct 25, 2019Just as the oil of the vetiver plant is useful in fighting insomnia and calming nerves, the music of Vetiver could definitely be used as a sedative. Preferably in the backseat of a dusty car on a muggy summer afternoon.
San Francisco resident and frequent Devendra Banhart collaborator Andy Cabic has been releasing albums as Vetiver — with a rotating cast of musicians — since 2004. Over the course of six albums, Vetiver have been a punchy pop band, a groove group with a Latin rhythm section, an electric pop collective and a freak-folk fairytale act. However, with all these experimental phases behind him, Vetiver have settled fully into throwback California folk with Up On High, and the result is an album that is undeniably pleasant, but ultimately unsatisfying.
What is immediately evident is the extent to which Cabic leans upon sonic and lyrical clichés of West coast music that can't help but feel disingenuous in 2019. He sings of "palm trees in the wind swaying" over jangly electric guitar, and fingerpicks an acoustic while whisper-singing, "from the outside looking in, can't see where this will end." Most egregious is "Hold Tight," on which Cabic sings "you've only got what you've got till it's gone" over an acoustic reggae jam that could be a trashed Grateful Dead B-side. Paired with notably flat production throughout Up On High, these moments are reliably underwhelming.
However, there are certainly moments of beauty on this record. The pedal steel swooping around the vocal melody on "Filigree" ties the song together nicely, and the punchy acoustic licks on "To Who Knows Where" are tastefully infused into the Jack Johnson-esque groove of the track.
The biggest strength of Up On High may be its greatest weakness: it's a record that is exactly what it is trying to be, a folk rock album that feels so much like a folk rock album that you forget about it as soon as it ends. Vetiver's latest is an album that you can put on and not think too much about. (Mama Bird Recording Co.)