On wintry days the call of warmer climes can be near deafening, and the itch only gets soothed by one or other dependable set of songs for somewhere else; a recent addition to the private pantheon round this way has been Vetiver’s Up On High. Usually labelled as a ‘folk band’, Vetiver have covered much ground over the years, and exist as a floating ensemble based around Andy Cabic. Cabic has repute as a curator and enabler, associates include Devendra Banhart, Jonathan Wilson and Neal Casal; he guaranteed himself our continued warm appreciation by including the glorious ‘Sleep a Million Years’ (originally by Kathy Heideman) on his covers collection Thing Of The Past back in 2008.
Up On High is a consequence of Cabic’s recent stripped-down and peripatetic existence during which his acoustic guitar was the simplest instrument to pick up. The songs started there and built up in an uncomplicated and easy fashion; they were tracked at a friend’s house in California’s high desert with a small contingent, among them a couple of Fruit Bats, and then completed in Thom Monahan’s studio. The describers initially coming to mind are ‘Laurel Canyon’, ‘Workingman’s’, and ‘laid back’; and certainly this music reeks of a world where the sun warms your back and everything is viewed through a filter of heat haze.
The sequence begins with ‘The Living End’ where gentle guitar meanders gracefully; the aspiration to become more robust is eventually seen through, but it never quite shakes off the sense of backing away, turning on itself as if in no hurry to reach any destination. The effect is massive reassuring; the listener slides into it with no sense of rush. Then ‘To Who Knows Where’ initially recalls Peter Bruntnell recalling Neil Young, before it turns sweet, nostalgic, and fleeting”; “when the roses bloom so strong, so soon will I have to go” Cabic sings – the little repetition emphasizing his reluctance – as the pedal steel keens, and he slips away.
Gone into the more uptempo jangle of ‘Swaying’, inviting invocations of Murmur and certainly, being breezily poppy, a perfect fit for a vision of “palm trees in the wind”. ‘All We Could Want’ continues with similar drive, a mite ironic given its repeated message, “stay awhile, rest here in my arms”; before ‘Hold Tight’ takes us into a Steely Dan ambience with its reggaefied soft soul vibe.
‘Wanted, Never Asked’ finds country rock turning tender and regretful; “what’s past is past”; and that regret flowers fully on the exquisite ‘A Door Shuts Quick’. Steel guitar and organ burnish ‘Filigree’ before ‘Up On High’ sends us floating. A long song, threatening to retreat into shimmer before the guitars keen more, finely exemplifies how not too much seems to happen but what does just happens so well. Finally, and paradoxically, the gentle folky chill of ‘Lost (In Your Eyes)’ rolls us out in a blanket of warmth.
Up On High is a record to take time with, as it gives of itself but gradually. Most of those songs simply don’t allow you to take short cuts, or think your way into them. They work by insinuation, as different fragments get their hooks in and hang on, but gradually, if you let them, they become firm and reliable friends.