Thing of the Past
Covers albums ask you to set aside some of rock crit's most reliable qualitative barometers, songwriting and "artistic growth," for a slightly different set of evaluative tools such as interpretative skill and aesthetic cohesion. But what most fans (and covers albums are primarily for fans) expect from a covers collection is a private tour of a band's basement: its nascent influences, personal touchstones, even its embarrassing fanboy crushes.
Vetiver, however, have never obscured their roots. Since the band's 2004 self-titled debut, Andy Cabic and his revolving lineup of players have camped at the various collision sites of rock, folk, psych, and country, combing through almost every inch of that frequently fertile soil. So its more weather than news that the band's latest LP, the accurately named Thing of the Past, digs exclusively in the crate marked "1967-1973", culling its covers from the catalogs of artists like Hawkwind, Townes Van Zandt, and Michael Hurley (the last appears on "Blue Driver"). Anyone hoping Vetiver would pull a Richard Thompson and cover Britney is out of luck.
There's very little on Thing of the Past-- released on Cabic and Devendra Banhart co-owned Gnomonsong-- to harsh anyone's mellow. Cabic's balmy tenor is as easy as ever on the ears, and its mild flavor is an actual advantage when called upon to shift from a supporting role in "Sleep a Million Years" to the soft-rock lead in "To Baby". Until full-band jam "Hurry on Sundown" kicks up some modest dust eight tracks in, Vetiver hold heart rates in check with plenty of mid-tempos, acoustic instrumentation, and tasteful, gold soundz arrangements. The band also keeps interpretive liberties on a leash. Some of the album’s best cuts-- jaunty banjo ditty "The Swimming Song" and melancholy wallow "Road to Ronderlin"-- are potent because they're time-tested, both virtual Xeroxes of, respectively, Loudon Wainwright III and Ian Matthews originals.
To his considerable credit, Cabic rescues several obscurities from the dustbin, including the aforementioned "Sleep a Million Years". First performed by an un-Googleable Dia Joyce, the dreamy folk tune is resuscitated with a dewy morning-after vocal performance by Vashti Bunyan (someone well-acquainted with musical second acts). "Lon Chaney", written by genre-hopping, New York singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys and performed stately, if a little detached, by Cabic and Papercuts' Jason Quever on piano, is another neat find.
"Lon Chaney" opens the door to an intriguing point of inquiry, though. Like many artists in the period from which Vetiver draws, Jeffreys wrote political songs informed by passionately held progressive values (in Jeffreys’ case, racial equity). But Vetiver, in breaking their two-year absence with a Vaseline-smeared backward glance, emanates a curiously apolitical, even reactionary, vibe. Make no mistake, Thing of the Past is a perfectly pleasant, well-produced album that offers an authorized version of what Vetiver fans already unofficially know about the band. And if it doesn't make many false steps, it isn't exactly walking a ledge.
-Amy Granzin, June 05, 2008
Upcoming Vetiver European and US Northeastern shows:
06/06 Cardiff, UK @ Barfly
06/07 Belfast, North Ireland @ Black Box
06/08 Dublin, Ireland @ Crawdaddy
06/10 Birmingham, UK @ Barfly
06/13 Porto, PRT @ Passos Manuel
06/14 Lisbon, PRT @ ZDB Gallery
06/17 Barcelona, ESP @ Sidecar
06/18 Madrid, ESP @ Joy Eslave (w/ Akron/family)
06/19 Seville, ESP @ Teatro Central (w/ Akron/Family)
06/20 Granada, ESP @ Teatro Alhambra (w/ Akron/Family)
06/21 Malaga, ESP @Teatro Canovas (w/ Akron/Family)
06/27 Paris, FR @ Café De la Danse
06/29 Glastonbury, UK @ Glastonbury Festival
07/25 Rochester, NY @ Boulder Annual Music Festival
07/26 Albany, NY @ Valentine's
07/27 Burlington, VT @ Club Metronome
07/28 Peterborough, NH @ Reynolds Hall
07/29 Portland, ME @ SPACE Gallery
07/30 Hampden, CT @ The Space
07/31 Montague, MA @ Montague Bookmill
08/01 Boston, MA @ Museum of Fine Arts
08/02 New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
08/03 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg