Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vetiver - Thing of The Past (2008)

3.0 ★/6.0 - 6.9

The reason why any genre revivalist succeeds as more than an outdated tribute to an overdone style is because of the unique elements and variations they bring to the table. Let's look at the burgeoning folk scene, for instance. Although more recently dying down, the past five years or so has been honored with spectacular folk-revival albums by artists such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. The former introduced a wildly varied take on organic traditionalist styles, given more modern relevance by his crooning, unruly snarls and hippie ideals. And the latter fuses harp-playing, love-it-or-hate-it childlike-yelps, fantastical poetry and conceptual adventurousness, putting her at the forefront of ground-breaking music today. "Freak Folk" may have become a damning tag, but any artists that can fuse such a rootsy genre with experimental, forward-thinking elements deserve a medal or two. With so much competition, Vetiver's self titled debut album earned itself three. A weightless journey through a natural yet fantastic terrain, heightened by dramatic strings and beautifully psychedelic textures, Vetiver is an overlooked album that still sounds fresh four years later. Sadly, the band seemed to levitate a little closer to earth for their sophomore effort. Their influences were a little more apparent and the songs themselves hinted at more traditional soft rock and country territory. As a result, To Find Me Gone is a mildly enjoyable yet unessential album that hasn't aged as well.

So now Thing of The Past is here to make the band's influences 100% percent clear, with covers spanning from Garland Jeffreys to Ian Matthews, and Vetiver has become a significantly less interesting band because of it. Admittedly, many of these songs are super obscure, so the criticism of "what's the point?" isn't warranted. And tracks like Norman Greenbaum's "Hook And Ladder", Biff Rose's "To Baby" and Loudon Wainwright's "Swimming Song" contain timelessly catchy and folksy hooks that deserve to re-presented to the general population. But Vetiver's true strengths shine gloriously on the unconventional tracks. "Roll On Babe" revitalizes Ronnie Lane with a misty weightlessness while "Hurry On Sundown" illuminates the band's love of jamming and classic rock through one of Hawkwind's better known progressive southern ho-downs. They disappointingly remind us that the bulk of the album ditches these exciting elements for pleasant yet forgettable staples, void of dynamics, soul or original flair that would warrant a track to be covered - lifeless renditions of Elyse Weinberg's "Houses", Townes Van Zandt's "Standin" and Michael Hurley's "Blue Driver" for example. This hit and miss affair is saved at the end by Bobby Charles' "I Must Be In A Good Place Now"; a beautifully hushed and unpretentious gospel tune, which makes the album a step above mediocre and even gratifying enough for a listen or two. But much like Cat Power's Jukebox, Thing of The Past takes it's name too literally, coming off as a dispensable relic from the past, and consequently extinguishing a little bit of the inventive and mystical nature that keeps a voice fresh and distinctive even in orthodox territory.

No comments:

"How many times must a man look up
before he can see the sky?"