2008: In Review
Thing Of The Past / Gnomonsong
Vetiver, in a reflective mood.
"Music discovery" is a newish buzzword of this decade, now that it's easier than ever to make a recording yet harder to figure out which ones are worth listening to. Independent bloggers and web software tools have joined traditional press, radio, and our friends to guide us toward music of interest. But the musicians we like have always helped to cultivate our tastes as well, through their own social networks and the cover songs they teach us.
You probably hadn't heard half of the songs that Vetiver essays on Thing Of The Past, an all-covers album and the band's third full-length disc, before it appeared in May. You almost certainly hadn't heard Dia Joyce's "Sleep A Million Years" unless you'd been to Vetiver frontman Andy Cabic's house, because it appears he has the only copy in existence. Joyce's rescued song nests among artifacts from Iain Matthews, Elyse Weinberg and Bobby Charles that are far from obvious, as well as less obscure cuts that appeared on albums by Townes Van Zandt, Ronnie Lane, Hawkwind and Loudon Wainwright III.
Vetiver's approach is quite straightforward – they feature Cabic's close voice, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, and maybe some backing vocals, steel guitar or violin – but the band also divines a powerful atmosphere from taste and intuition. Cabic coos over fluttering strings as Garland Jeffreys' sad "Lon Chaney" portrait reaches its end; that's chamber music to my ears. Hawkwind's "Hurry On Sundown" becomes an unholy incantation to raise the spirits, with a bit of Led Zeppelin III mysticism. Perhaps best of all is sometime comic Biff Rose's solo piano lament "To Baby", remade with a wistful, drifting groove.
Vetiver's original songs are typically subtle and understated, with the overheard quality of a shared secret. This well-curated set has the same feeling of discovery, but with a sweet permanence that runs much deeper than ephemeral buzz.