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Vetiver - Thing of the Past

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Artist: Vetiver

Album: Thing of the Past

Label: Gnomonsong

Review date: May. 8, 2008

To Find Me Gone, Vetiver’s previous LP, didn’t generate a lot of buzz when it was released two years ago, but it’s insinuated itself into my life in a way that few recent records have. Thing of The Past is Andy Cabic’s first release since, and is made up entirely of other people’s songs, mostly of the also-ran '70s singer-songwriter variety – the best-known artists covered here are Townes Van Zandt (“Standing”), Loudon Wainwright III (“The Swimming Song”), and Hawkwind (“Hurry on Sundown”). Thing of The Past is, if anything, even more of a grower than its predecessor. Cabic’s guilty of hyperbole when he calls this the best album he’s made, but then again, modesty is Vetiver’s stock-in-trade: Thing of The Past endears itself slowly and deeply.

Cabic’s voice is preternaturally gentle – he may have stopped by the studio after a morning meditation in the woods and before an afternoon spent in a Japanese tea garden. Applying it to other songwriters’ work doesn’t do much to highlight the small liberties he takes with the source material: Cabic doesn’t attempt to match his subjects’ idiosyncrasies, and opts instead to emphasize continuity between the covers and his own work.

“Houses” originally comes from Elyse Weinberg’s self-titled album, originally released in 1968 and reissued by Isota in 2006. Over a shuffling rhythm, Cabic follows the original’s lead by eliminating all but the smallest pause between the verse and chorus, emphasizing the anxiety beneath the song’s resignation. Elyse began in the Toronto folk scene with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and followed them to L.A., but her slightly dark and worn songs and her homely voice have found her a home on the short list of folk singers re-discovered during the heady freak-folk days. Less well known than Vashti Bunyan (who appears here to duet with Cabic on Dia Joyce’s “Sleep A Million Years”) or Linda Perhacs, it’s a representative way to open an album less dedicated to canon-building than inhabiting the generous range these little-known songs offer.

The album peaks with Biff Rose’s amicable breakup song “To Baby,” and Garland Jeffreys’ “Lon Chaney.” “To Baby”’s lyrical content is only superficially dated – in it, the speaker’s attempt to say goodbye to a lover gets garbled as he tries to account for unexpectedly traditional expectations (“In a changin’ world / I thought I needed you”). With Cabic’s unflappable delivery and the album’s richest backing track, it’s Thing of The Past’s most enjoyable moment: pretending to pay homage, Vetiver totally owns the song. “Lou Chaney” is another track dealing with youth via slightly painful humor: more sullen than anything the band has tried their hand at yet, it’s based around piano and teenage TV shut-in melancholy. In this case, it’s the distance between the band’s typical hopeful, dilated mood – not exactly pie-eyed optimism, but an understated dedication to what certain Bay Area residents would call “being present” – and the song’s elegant sulk that gives the reading of Jeffreys’ song its pull.

Ultimately, this album probably won’t be the critical sleeper hit that its predecessor was – it’s hard to find fault with the band’s playing, the choice of songs, and the overall premise, but Thing of The Past only nudges their art forward a bit from To Find Me Gone. Then again, the band has always traded in and thrived on a kind of stasis, and this album just may need a few years to find its audience.

By Brandon Bussolini

Other Reviews of Vetiver


To Find Me Gone

Tight Knit

The Errant Charm

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View all articles by Brandon Bussolini

Find out more about Gnomonsong

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