Singer/songwriter Andy Cabic's output as Vetiver underwent many shifts as it outlived the freak folk scene it grew adjacently out of and moved calmly and steadily through the end of the aughts. The project stayed active but slowed down significantly, touring less and releasing new albums at a rate of every four years. 2015's Perfect Strangers saw Cabic lacing his rootsy folk rock songs with subtle electronic touches and layering the production. Up on High returns to more spacious songwriting and a far more direct reading of Cabic's gentle but mature perspectives. The ten songs that comprise Up on High are open and spare, with Cabic's usually hushed vocals higher in the mix and all the yacht rock trappings of recent albums dialed way back. The album opens with "The Living End," a slowly ambling folk rocker. Understated playing and the subtle interaction of simplistic parts give the song a classic feeling, not unlike the more revelatory moments of Neil Young and Tom Petty. Spindly guitar leads interlock for a moment, allowing for a winking nod to the Grateful Dead. Much of the album occupies this space, with highlights like "To Who Knows Where" and "Wanted, Never Asked" feeling airy and mellow without losing artistic drive. Cabic entertains different muses throughout the course of Up on High. "Hold Tight" is built on a friendly groove, with the same breezy, streetwise energy of Jackson Browne or One Trick Pony-era Paul Simon. Elsewhere, the upbeat jangle of "Swaying" meshes early R.E.M. with Cabic's eternal twilight songwriting style. Making more space in the arrangements serves the songs far better than the experiments with instrumentation and density that cluttered moments of the albums directly preceding Up on High. It's a clear and focused return to the peaks the band found in the mid-2000s, and as enjoyable a listen as the best of their work.
Up on High Review
by Fred Thomas