The Errant Charm
June 14, 2011
Errant: deviating from the regular or proper course, erring, straying; journeying or traveling; moving in an aimless or lightly changing manner: as in an errant breeze.
Vetiver's fourth album, The Errant Charm, could certainly be classified as breezy, airy, floating or straying, as spacious melodies, lightly treading rhythms and soft, leafy vocals make up its mellow folk-pop core. The aerial nature of this album remains ever buoyant through ten tracks as if a wild seed carried aloft by the wind: freely floating, seemingly aimless but content in its purpose. That is how this album feels: not quite grounded, but not altogether lost, confident, secure, open. Self-proclaimed to be a wandering album, and created with inspiration from bandleader Andy Cabic's meandering through San Francisco's city streets, The Errant Charm brings J.R.R. Tolkien's famous quote-turned-bumper-sticker to mind: "Not all who wander are lost."
It starts out slow, as if waking from the fog of a dream, with old-fashioned keyboards setting a backdrop of misty enterprise for languid strumming on the guitar and faint bits of percussion in "It's Beyond Me." Characteristic of the album's overall style, the drums always seem far-off, as if only a pitter-pattering of motion, giving the atmospheric vocals and jangly rhythms center stage, with the ethereal notes of the piano lifting the song out of its mortal capsule. The first three songs are lovely in a distant, half-aware sort of way, as if only one finger tethers the listening body to the earth as the rest strays upward into clouds.
"This album was made for walking," or so the press release declares, yet I see myself listening to this album most appropriately while driving quietly through a misty beach morning on the way to somewhere distant and unknown. Either way, if the beginning of the album slowly awakens you from your sleepy dream state, the middle picks up with a slight country rhythm and twinkling guitar in "Hard to Break," then crescendos with the best song of the set called "Fog Emotion." Somehow, the combination of the soft rainforest beat in the background and the sharp rhythm of the keyboard makes the magic here for me. It's the one song that says something profound yet unexplainable, as music does, without actually saying it, and where hitting that intermittent high note feels just like a perfect plucking at the heart. There is a nostalgic yearning for home in "Right Away," with a folksy tambourine and refrain of "I wonder if we had anything at all" amid pleasing back harmonies of "your face was all I saw."
Then, the next two songs of the mix have a slightly more rambunctious feeling, as if you are fully awake and super jazzed to be wherever you are. In "Wonder Why," the layers of sound in an upbeat ribbon of keys, a waterfall of strings, vibrating vocals and hummingbird-soft heartbeats, slowly overlap to create a blanket of 90s-reminiscent soft pop quilted with heartfelt musicianship and instrumentation faintly recalling artists like Paul Simon, though not as energetic. This bunch in the middle are the most engaging, possess the most brisk walking pace and utilize the soft percussion, airy vocals and light melodies to the fullest.
Track eight, "Ride Ride Ride," is the only song with a little heavier blues guitar, a deeper gravelly voice and more rock-driven guitar riffs, though not without the tambourine in the background keeping it floating along. This is the song where the seed finds planting in the earth, where the wandering walker grabs an air guitar and rocks out, where the driver puts the top down and takes those turns a little more rapidly. "500 more miles to go," and you're charged up for a higher gear, you're ready to ride, you're going full speed unafraid of the crash.
Then taking it back down, "Faint Praise" features the namesake of the album as crooning vocalist Cabic resignedly sings, "the errant charm soon comes undone… you'll never be the only one." And the album concludes as softly, as unthreateningly, as charmingly, as spaciously as it opened.
Overall, The Errant Charm feels the most like amber comfort, not unlike the amber that travelers in ancient times would carry with them for protection, as this album is markedly content, pushing neither into dangerous regions nor into too joyous escapades, verified safe for moving. Like a sugary-coated soft chew, it's easy to digest and not hard to swallow, almost taking you places, but melting more quickly than it enlightens. It might be nice to drive along to, allowing your thoughts to join the music in airy composition, but the light and at times intangible nature of it seems almost too weightless. It's comfortable, harmless, pleasing at times and perfect for a journey to nowhere.
Best song: Fog Emotion
Recommended if you like: Paul Simon, Stereophonics, Deer Tick
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Reviewer Bio - Nancy Woo, managing editor at OnlineRock, studied Sociology, Literature and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. A self-described "bohemian of sorts" she spends most of her time listening to music, reading, writing, freelancing in the world of journalism, tutoring writing, running, practicing yoga, attending live music and theater shows.