With albums out by Neko Case, M. Ward, The Boy Least Likely To, and now Vetiver, you might be inclined to call 2009 the Year of the Singer-Songwriter. Except for 2 things: 1) Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone is so far ahead of the pack on this one that you’d be better off calling 2009 The Year that No One Quite Caught Neko Case and 2) there are some great rock albums out now and some promising stuff on the horizon (I’ll talk to you about the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album later). Having said that, though, there’s plenty to like about Vetiver’s new Tight Knit.
For those of you who are wondering, Vetiver – I believe – is a type of grass. And Tight Knit is the kind of album grass would make. Okay, that’s not true, but it reminds me of a joke: I read the other day that botanists have synthesized a new kind of emo grass seed; so, in the near future, your lawn will cut itself. Where was I?
Oh yeah. Tight Knit starts off with the gorgeous “Rolling Sea,” the kind of softly strummed summertime tune that creeps up on you with its loveliness. That’s due in large part to Andy Cabic’s soothing-ass, Iron-and-Winey vocals. That should go a long way toward telling you if you’ll like Tight Knit or not. It never gets up to any kind of rocking tempo and most of the songs are laid back love songs – it’s the sort of thing you’ll love if Sky Blue Sky is your favorite Wilco album, a pleasant-enough kind of listen, but not the sort of thing that I’m going to try to cram down the throat of everyone I meet for the next month (like, say, a certain album by a certain woman who owns a certain farm in Vermont – you have the power to stop these repeated Neko Case references; all you have to do is make sure everyone you know owns Middle Cyclone or has at least listened to the thing). Tight Knit is the sort of album I put on when my girlfriend says, “You choose an album” and I know that, implicit in that offering, is a silent plea that I not put on The Clash or The Hold Steady or Titus Andronicus or Sonic Youth or even my beloved Neko Case. It’s a compromise album – I could put Tight Knit on for my parents (who, though I love them, have a taste in music so radically opposite mine that if we put our CD collections in the same room, they would fight to the death. Mine would win) and they’d find a lot to like about it.
And, Tight Knit is the sort of album that’s hard to review in any kind of standard way because it’s uniformly lovely, which sounds like a knock against it and maybe it sort of is. I mean, it’s not perfect like Stay Positive is perfect, but there’s nothing on Tight Knit that induces even the slightest cringe. It’s polished to a shine and standing on your front porch in its Sunday best, shuffling its feet and saying, “Aw, shucks, it’d just be an honor if I could play some music for you.” Andy Cabic has crafted a polite, safe, and occasionally beautiful album that just feels a little too clean for me.
But, goddammit, I don’t dislike the album either. You know how you might say you’re “fine” when someone asks you how you’re doing and you say it because you’re not doing bad but you’re not ecstatically awesome? You’re just kinda on an even keel? Tight Knit is “fine” like that. Cabic never under nor overwhelms you with anything on Tight Knit; it’s a perfectly whelming listen. It maintains its standard of whelming on repeated listens,too – I have felt exactly the same about it on every listen, and I’m working my way through it for perhaps the 8th time. So if you’re looking for the kind of album you can put on and kinda forget about, noticing its good bits at your leisure, Vetiver’s Tight Knit is the album for you.
Incidentally, Emo Grass could also be a kind of reefer that induces pronounced states of self-involvement and melodrama. But who the fuck would want to smoke that? (Answer: that asshole from My Chemical Romance)