That Vetiver’s modus operandi is breezy California rock should be obvious by now. Although Vetiver first came to light as members of Devendra Banhart’s freak-folk movement, Andy Cabic’s San-Francisco-based group never fit in with the freaks. The band shared Banhart’s groovy, hippie sensibility, but they didn’t share his global vision or his erratic tendencies. Banhart has become a star, but he’s released some spotty records. Vetiver will never be stars, but they probably will never release a record as messy as Banhart’s What Will Be. Simply put, you know what you’re going to get with a Vetiver album. The band seems as sure of its product and as immune to current trends as an LL Bean catalog.
The Errant Charm is Vetiver’s fifth album, it’s second since moving to Sub Pop, and it continues a subtle progression that can be traced from the band’s 2004 self-titled debut. Where the band’s earlier efforts were washed in reverb and track after track of rustling guitar tones, recent records make better use of empty space. If a song like The Errant Charm’s “The Right Way” had shown up on an earlier Vetiver record, it might wallow in atmospheric effects and acoustic overload. Here though, the song’s leaner and bolder. Similarly, Cabic, who had a reedy whisper of a voice that often got lost in the mix on earlier Vetiver albums, has grown more confident as a singer. He’s become a wise old head now, with grey in his beard and a mature sense of wonder about the world. On opener “It’s Beyond Me,” maybe the best song on the album, Cabic’s craggy vocals lead the charge to a peak of world-weariness and transcendence.
The danger with The Errant Charm is pretty much the same as any other Vetiver album — so many mid-tempo, strummy songs can create a sluggish effect. A wake-up call arrives in the album’s final third, however: first, the driving sunshine pop of “Wonder Why,” and then the chug-a-lug guitar jam “Ride Ride Ride.” These songs show Vetiver stepping just a smidgen from its comfort zone and finding limited success. Vetiver is nobody’s bar band — they still excel at stirring, twangy mood pieces — but the branching out makes the album stronger.
What’s admirable about Vetiver, and The Errant Charm, is the fact that the music dares you to find it boring. Easy melodies, hushed singing, muted production — these are the ingredients for a snoozefest. But somehow Vetiver doesn’t allow that to happen. The key lies in Cabic’s clever songwriting and his band’s graceful playing. If music ever experiences a soft-rock renaissance — and it wouldn’t be crazy to predict one, what with Dan Bejar giving new life to the saxophone solo and Bon Iver covering Bonnie Raitt on Fallon — you could say Andy Cabic and Vetiver went there first.