Vetiver

Complete Strangers

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Starting in 2009 with their album Tight Knit, it's become more and more difficult to hear the pastoral, folky beginnings of Vetiver in their music. That album was a slickly made pop confection and 2011's The Errant Charm drew heavily from '70s soft rock, resulting in something even more easy to digest and also easier to imagine coming from the speakers in the waiting rooms of slightly hip dentists and insurance agents around the nation. Andy Cabic and his main collaborator Thom Monahan continue their quest to chart the ship for the smoothest waters possible on Complete Strangers. Even more than the past two albums, this one has all the rough edges delicately sanded off and then re-covered with the slickest materials possible, whether they are backing vocals that feel like they've been lifted from an Atlanta Rhythm Section album, gentle electronic washes and clipped drum machines, or guitars that are layered so tightly that you couldn't slip one of Stevie Nicks' scarves through them. It makes for an album that's easy to swallow, but hard to taste. The duo's desire to strip the music of all energy leaves the songs limp, unable to make an impression in an age when songs are screaming for attention everywhere you turn. Maybe that was the plan, to create a tiny world of peace and calm, where the cares of the day are swept away by the quietly undulating waves of song and Cabic's drowsy vocals. The problem is that without any emotion, even a shred, in the vocals to latch onto or any hooks in the songs to grab you, it makes for a dull, lazy voyage. A couple tracks even feel like they were made to be listened to on a boat ("Current Carry") or a beach ("Time Flies By"), and that's just not where Vetiver ought to be found. Only a couple songs have any of the woozy energy or imagination that made previous albums a treat to listen to: "Stranger Still," which opens the album with an epic-length electropop flash of energy that is sadly discarded as soon as the song fades out; and the chiming folk-rocker "Loose Ends," which arrives halfway through to give the listener a welcome slap. Other than those two tracks, the rest of the album is sleepy enough that even legendarily mellow dude Jack Johnson would get bored halfway through and start looking for something a little zippier. A more balanced feel, a few songs with memorable hooks, some passion from Cabic, arrangements that aren't stifling -- these are the things the album lacks and desperately needs. It's always tough to see a band as consistently good as Vetiver take a stumble; one can only hope they can recover from this slumbering disaster next time out.

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