When last we left Andy Cabic, a scant seven months ago, he claimed that his collection of covers, Thing of the Past, was the best album he’d yet to make. Cabic was no slouch, making sure to insert a well placed `yet’ in that sentence. Of course, one should always think their strongest work is in front of them, otherwise, there’d be no motivation to continue. But, I suspect that Cabic spoke not with hollow idioms, but with the full knowledge that his Sub Pop debut, Tight Knit was something truly special. Tight Knit is Vetiver’s fourth album all told, including the covers compilation, and easily confirms Cabic’s unintentional prophecy sooner than expected. I certainly didn’t anticipate a new Vetiver album a mere half year from the release of the last record, and I would have never pegged it to be a Sub Pop album!
It’s not that it doesn’t fit into Sub Pop’s current roster. On the contrary, Vetiver’s signature bi-coastal folk rock sound can comfortably snuggle up to those of labelmates Iron & Wine, Fleet Foxes and the slew of Carissa’s Wierd offshoots. What’s more surprising is that Cabic, a longtime friend of Devendra Banhart, didn’t release this record on Banhart’s Gnomonsong label, as he did with the third Vetiver record. Regardless, one can declare both Vetiver and Sub Pop the dual winners in this partnership. The once `local grunge’ house gets a superb folk rock record and Cabic gets his music heard by more people than ever before.
With every release, the music of Vetiver has become crisper, more focused and more confident, making the title of the latest record more than a mere cosmetic promise of words. Cabic makes his compositions seem leisurely, but further examination proves a meticulousness of sound collage that belies a lazy approach. This is by no means a `jam’ band record, despite most associations that may accompany most `folk-tagged’ efforts that emerged in the ’90s. Opener “Rolling Sea” is a perfect example of what I mean. The song tiptoes in on Cabic’s acoustic guitar notes and unaffected natural vocal style, only to be joined by a bevy of musician friends, including the Fruit Bats’ Eric Johnson, playing upwards of seven instruments that intertwine, yet never overpower. “Rolling Sea” is so steeped in ’70s nostalgia, pastoral vibes and gentle songwriting, that one feels transported to a simpler time and place.
Like his pal, Devendra, Cabic culls from the doo-wop era, yet not nearly so zanily. “Sister,” “Everyday” and “More of This” all borrow from eras even more bygone than the ’60s and ’70s folk rock at Vetiver’s core, and so breezily that one would feign to tell the difference. Even when Cabic strips down particular tracks to either just himself or along with a partner, there is a full sound that is at once beguiling and arresting. One can’t help but feel washed away by Cabic’s combined keyboards and guitars on “Down From Above.” Further, Cabic and bassist Brent Dunn team together with “On the Other Side” to somewhat recall the wah-wah drenched fusion / folk / funk of the triumvirate opening of Blues for Allah, yet sans excessive wankery. Where Vetiver really stretch out and succeed is on the horn-accompanied tracks, “Through the Front Door” and “Another Reason to Go.” The latter is a true funk gem, strutting along with a bass-heavy confident swagger that is sure to charm even the steeliest of folk purist hearts.
There’s a scene at the end of the criminally short-lived television series, Freaks & Geeks, where central figure Lindsay Weir (aptly named), finally discovers a world in which she fits, albeit somewhat accidentally, making a case for kismet or fate. She is told by someone at school to listen to the Grateful Dead’s iconic album, American Beauty, and it changes her life. Throughout my repeated listens to Tight Knit, I was reminded of American Beauty on more than one occasion. Aside from the more obvious musical cues, such as particular guitar pedal effects or classic 50’s rock phrasings, I was also struck by Cabic’s vocal likeness to Jerry Garcia, though sometimes softer, and a knack for blending styles effortlessly. American Beauty is considered GD’s perfect studio album, where poetic words and varied music came together like they never had before or since in the band’s long career. Tight Knit is just such a record, but I’m unwilling to bet that there won’t be more gems from Vetiver in the future.