Like his friend Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic of Vetiver has lately become fond of making songs that aren’t just an acoustic guitar, a cello or mandolin, and some hand drums. To Find Me Gone finds Cabic utilizing slow, leisurely arrangements that feature warm, vintage electronic instruments like harmoniums and tape-loop treatments alongside steel guitar lines and mandolins. The result is an album of moody country music and rich, weird folk songs.
The opener, “Been So Long,” uses a viola, some tabla drums and Cabic’s quiet vocals to wonderful effect, the song a “welcome home” to a lover Cabic believes he is fated to be with. A sentiment like that can sound lame and pretentious, but the song’s slow build mirrors the journey the woman is making to his door. When the flutes and harmonies kick in, it’s hard not be a sucker for the idea of fated love. Cabic and Co. are able to pull off something indie-pop bands nationwide have been attempting for years: writing a really good sappy song.
“Idle Ties,” the album’s first (sorta) up-tempo number, is a loopy pop song with an absolutely stunning chorus that features Cabic hitting a high note it probably took six or seven takes to get right. One line mentions Cabic listening to a mix tape with “Marc Bolan and Vashti” on it, which is fitting since the song sounds like a combination of Marc Bolan’s odd, jazzy hooks and Vashti Bunyan’s angelic high notes. On the subject of mix tapes, “Idle Ties” is bound to end up on more than a few; it’s the closest the album comes to a pop song.
“I Know No Pardon” is a broke-down country song about a criminal drifter down on his luck, not exactly a subject Cabic is an authority on. What redeems the song is his delivery: a slow, resigned and bitter vocal that makes you believe Cabic may once have felt like a wanted drifter with no hope and no friends. Of course, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan are rarely taken to task nowadays for their outlaw poses; like them, Cabic is just acting, but at least he sounds convincing.
But on tracks like “The Porter,” a tale of a wartime “bagman” who moves from bed to bed, Cabic’s unaffected delivery reveals him as the Middle Class White Guy he is. The reason Colin Meloy can get away with singing about Chimbley sweeps and Russian princes is that he never really inhabits his characters; he’s more a storyteller than an actor. Cabic’s lyrics are too vague and surreal to act as stories and his singing too minimal to sell him as a wartime Casanova.
This problem persists on songs that Cabic should have no problem pulling off. On “Won’t Be Me,” he tries the “It Ain’t Me, Babe” thing, telling his girlfriend he can’t save her from her own hard times. But Cabic’s tired delivery can’t convince me that he’s cool enough to leave his girl in the cold. And on “Red Lantern Girls,” a fiery acid guitar line saves him from mumbling on about “devils from our land,” “burning buildings,” and sweeping away “the fire” with our hands. If he’s talking about 9/11 or the post-9/11 world, it’s hard to tell, since he could just as easily be talking about his trip to Burning Man last summer.
With so much right about To Find Me Gone, it’s a shame the album never coheres into a whole. Too many songs suffer from either Cabic’s weak vocals or meandering and unfocused melodies.
Cabic is growing as an artist, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s got a little more growing still to do.