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The Errant Charm Barnaby Smith , June 24th, 2011 08:35

Vetiver’s previous album Tight Knit was largely a disappointment for anyone who had fallen in love with Andy Cabic’s band on the back of their magnificent 2006 LP, To Find Me Gone. Lost was the psychological intrigue, subtlety and literateness of that album, with a strange obsession with sedate Hollies-style rock and roll in its place. It was a foot-tapping, rather twee regression for a group capable of such depth.

So when news of The Errant Charm emerged earlier this year with Cabic describing the new songs as ‘strolling music’, it did not exactly bode well for a return to the mystery and beauty that to this day sees them stand a cut above almost all modern pop-folk acts. ‘Strolling music’ conjured images of Cabic sauntering carefree down the Haight in his native San Francisco, perhaps swinging a cane, surveying the indelible niceness of his existence.

Then, however, a startlingly good first song from the album, ‘Can’t You Tell’, was released online, proving that Cabic might actually have misread his own songs. This was not as cosy as he suggested, and was certainly full of all the soul Tight Knit lacked. The woozy synthesisers recall the two songs on Tight Knit that actually worked, ‘Strictly Rule’ and ‘At Forest Edge’. This hazy sound - it is even not too much of a stretch to suggest a mild Animal Collective/Panda Bear influence - informs much of The Errant Charm and marks Vetiver’s fourth album as both a satisfying return to form as well as a definite stylistic evolution.

Rivalling ‘Can’t You Tell’ as the LP’s best track is opener ‘It’s Beyond Me’, containing a slowness and immediacy of melody that suggests Cabic has returned to the melancholic songwriting that suits him best. ‘It’s Beyond Me’ proves the frequent accusation levelled at Cabic, that he deals in no intensity of emotion or musical daring, as wrong-headed. Songs like this (like anything from To Fine Me Gone) are masterpieces of simmering, inward-looking passion that don’t broadcast their themes openly and granted, require a few listens to come to terms with.

This is the case elsewhere on the album, where an innocuous-sounding track such as ‘Fog Emotion’ (with its Graceland-style guitar lines) or ‘Right Away’, has its apparent inertia jarred by a sudden injection of harmony or a melodic twist that Cabic hasn’t properly managed since To Find Me Gone’s ‘I Know No Pardon’.

While The Errant Charm does retain elements of To Find Me Gone’s brooding excellence, one thing entirely forsaken since that album is the notion of a lengthy ‘jam’-style song from Vetiver’s oeuvre. All these new tracks are unerring in their rigid structure allowing no space for energy and momentum to propel songs to different spheres of emotion. The problem here is that when a song doesn’t measure up within its tightly packed confines, it is all the starker. This album’s failures are ‘Hard To Break’, utterly forgettable, and ‘Wonder Why’, with its unambitious insistence on ‘back to basics’ rock making it sound like a poor man’s Tom Petty.

Within the context of Vetiver’s career to date, however, the most notable aspect of The Errant Charm must be this further adventure into the domain of wistful keyboard effects and ambience. ‘Faint Praise’ is another fine example of this, even evoking the spirit of This Mortal Coil. It is this quality that places it well above Tight Knit and hints at even more leftfield avenues Cabic may take next time around.

When Vetiver released their eponymous debut in 2004, complete with Devendra Banhart in the band’s line-up, such a sound as this must have seemed a world away. But like any musician with a lick of substance, Cabic has proven himself as an artist to expand and evolve, even if there have been a few hiccups along the way.

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