Vetiver’s catalog dates back to 2004, spanning seemingly unbreakable ties to Devendra Banhart and freak-folk inclinations to country-tainted covers of obscure tracks to an eventual deal and release with Sub Pop. The accessibility of the mellow, beach-infused melodies of 2009′s Tight Knit spoke to a much wider audience than frontman Andy Cabic’s older material, but it was also criticized for being too safe. Instead of resting on his laurels and regurgitating the successes of Tight Knit, though, Cabic and producer Thom Monahan venture into uncharted territory for Vetiver’s fifth studio release, The Errant Charm. Exploring pulsating, lush layers and pushing Cabic’s vocals to their threshold both result in The Errant Charm being an album of considerable depth, but not to the point of sacrificing the characteristic sunny, washed-out aesthetic of his previous work.
The record begins with “It’s Beyond Me”, a lengthy number that ends up being a stunning preview of the rest of the album’s sonic adventures. Swirling noise alongside a pretty typical acoustic strum swells into a rich mix of ethereal vocals, slide guitar, and feedback – it’s entrancing, and a pretty stark departure from the days of the ’70s AM radio-ready tunes that have characterized the better part of Vetiver’s career. Cabic and Monahan do it well, though, as the simultaneous haphazard feel and intricate composition of the feedback and thoroughly layered guitar and keys seamlessly come together throughout. The shining example of this is “Right Away”, as its mellow introduction triumphantly swells into a jangling mix of tambourine, keys, guitar, and horns. The repetition of “I wonder if we had anything at all” becomes another instrument in the mix, completely re-purposing Cabic’s characteristic whispery vocals into another production tool.
Lyrically, The Errant Charm spends a lot of time longing for lost innocence and relationships. Instead of becoming tiring, though, with consistent lines such as “Your face was all I saw” (“Right Away”) and “You and I suffered the way that young lovers do” (“Worse for Wear”), Cabic takes care to avoid sonic monotony, and the lyrics end up being the main cohesive component of the album. Nearly-danceable bass and upbeat melodies undermine the melancholy, notably on tracks such as “Can’t You Tell”. Its extended instrumental interlude combining jazzy soft rock, strings, and throbbing snyths adds an optimistic feel to what would otherwise be a moody song.
The definitive departure from both the lyrical and sonic norms of The Errant Charm is “Ride Ride Ride”, an homage to the open road and the promise of tomorrow. Listing off cities from Topeka to “Sweet Denver”, the song’s haphazardly layered vocals and catchy rhythm embody the urge for westward exploration – perhaps marking a turning point for a soul caught in dramatic turmoil. It’s an album standout and yet also a non sequitur amidst the run of lethargic tunes lulling the listener into a comatose state. The juxtaposition of the two doesn’t detract from the album’s coherence, surprisingly, but it keeps the album interesting and makes for a compelling listen.
After closer “Soft Glass” disintegrates into static, it’s apparent why The Errant Charm was the perfect name for this record. Cabic’s voice isn’t a showstopper, a few of the middle tracks get lost in the ever-present warbling feedback, and some of the experimentation seems a little out of place in the scheme of things – it lacks every conventional standard of charm. That being said, though, its unassuming nature and poignant honesty are not only charming but captivating. The Errant Charm is, on the whole, immensely successful – a venture outside of a comfort zone, a triumph for an artist who has consistently put out quality music only to be instantly likened and compared to a list of formidable influences, and an excellent soundtrack to hazy summer days and introspection.