Album Review: Vetiver’s ‘Up on High’

It’s not unusual for authors to recast and revisit a pet set of concerns across their career, and the same holds for musicians, though these cycles are more often sonic than lyrical. For Andy Cabic, the auteur behind Vetiver, this manifests on his seventh album, “Up on High,” in a return to the bright, airy acoustic folk of his first couple of pre-Sub Pop albums.

It’s nearly as stark a reversal from 2015’s polished, almost poppy “Complete Strangers” as cosine from sine, which Cabic has attributed to the writing circumstances. Having moved twice in the past year, Cabic’s recording equipment remained boxed up. Like his early career, the songs were largely written and sketched out on acoustic, lending themselves to the album’s relatively spare, straightforward treatments. There’s a fresh, dewey feel to the songs without retreating to the innocent austerity or freak-folk severity of Vetiver’s mid-‘00s emergence.

Fifteen years after his debut, the tone might be similar but the level of assurance and craft have evolved. Opening track “The Living End” acknowledges the journey (“Far from where I began… Lost but I know I’m nearer now”) while reveling in the process — “keeping one step ahead of defeat / Drifting like a notion down the street.” Warmed by organ contributions from Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats), the tune feels equally informed by the Grateful Dead’s folk-psych and the crisp, subdued machinations of Karate. Across the album there’s an understated muscularity that skates beneath the acoustic’s bright, light-footed gambol.

The album is highlighted by two tracks, “Swaying” and “Hold Tight.” The former blossoms behind ringing guitars imported from “Murmur”-era R.E.M alongside a knotty but infectious melody. The latter is unlike anything in Vetiver’s catalog, employing a pulsing, ’70s funk bass foundation for a smooth slithery jazz-rock strut that has more in common with “Aja”-era Steely Dan than Vashti Bunyan. “Hold tight,” Cabic cautions, “we’re already there.”

The later album track “Filigree” also bears mention. With supple slide and pedal steel guitars as well as keyboards, it’s richly arrayed, with a gentle touch that amplifies the track’s breezy folk charms. This echoes an album with effortless cloud-watching allure that, while not exactly carefree lyrically, comes across as cares-agnostic at the very least. That plays well to Cabic’s lullaby baritone, which in a parallel reality might encourage emergency evacuees to exit the building at a brisk but patient pace.

“Up on High” is an unpretentious California home on the bluffs above the shore with plenty of windows to let in the light, and a spacious view that keeps going right up to the horizon line. There’s always a light breeze to motivate the swaying palms, a glimmer of brightness from the ocean, and perhaps the faint aroma of sativa spicing the environs with a groovy, easy feeling like a drip-coffee version of happiness, slowly accumulating drop by drop.

(Disclaimer: Album producer Thom Monahan is related to a member of Variety staff.)

“Up on High”
Mama Bird Recording Co

Album Review: Vetiver's 'Up on High'

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