CD Review of Tight Knit by Vetiver
Vetiver: Tight Knit
Recommended if you like
Bon Iver, Devendra Banhart,
Fleet Foxes
Label
Sub Pop
Vetiver: Tight Knit

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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T
he new breed of bearded folkies has been hard at work in the new millennium, claiming the slowly aging collective consciousness of those who used to rock, and Vetiver is already getting the movement off to a roaring start in 2009. Though the "freak folk" tag gets bandied about quite a bit when referring to Andy Cabic and company, or (especially) dudes like Andy’s pal Devendra Banhart, the reality is, there’s very little one could call "freaky" about the music. Freaky good, maybe. But given the music’s general tendency towards calmness, even that’s a stretch.

If anything, Tight Knit – Vetiver’s label debut for Sub Pop – serves as the band’s biggest step yet away from its rough-ish earlier recordings, leaning closer to pop than anything they’ve done prior. And this includes their excellent cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "Save Me a Place" from a few years back, on 2005’s odds and ends EP Between.

In fact, they sound more than ever like a band that’s trying to reconcile a deep love of pop and R&B with its folkier tendencies. The softer side of Tusk is instantly evoked on the disc’s opener, "Rolling Sea," while "Everyday" sports a vocal arrangement straight out of the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile era. And that triangle in "Sister" brings out the brighter, sunshiny side of the band’s "pastoral" tendencies, just like it does in bossa nova or anything else.

But by the fifth tune, "Down from Above," the pop yields to a soft, delicate, harmony-laden blanket of vocals and finger-picked acoustic guitar that highlights not just how beautiful Vetiver can sound – and they’re certainly nearing something of a peak here – but also why they haven’t quite exploded yet on the level of their contemporaries the Fleet Foxes. Even the quieter moments can stand to have an extra dose of vocal oomph, just the right amount that communicates a message like "we’re great and we fucking know it," or "damn, my manager is pissing me off."

The closest Tight Knit comes to showing off a tinge of spunk is on the album’s most uncharacteristic songs. With a solid backbeat and a groovy R&B bass line, "More of This" joyously pulsates, while "Another Reason to Go" ups the ante with some funky electric piano and brass backing. And yet, these tunes don’t come off as gratuitous genre exercises – the band’s musical personality, while a soft-spoken one, still comes through loud and clear.

In the end, for all its diversity, the album lives up to its title – it hangs together very well, and displays a band whose musical approach is very much tight-knit, as opposed to tight-assed. Score one more for measured progression.

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