Music: Perfect strangers

Vetiver’s Andy Cabic expands his folk on new LP

by Charlie Swanson

San Francisco songwriter Andy Cabic is the man behind the city’s long-running folk ensemble Vetiver, forming the band in 2002. Over the course of five albums, Cabic took Vetiver from psychedelic freak rock roots to dusty folk melodies to ambient soundscapes. This year, with the band’s sixth LP, Complete Strangers, Vetiver is switching it up again.

Vetiver shows off the new sounds on August 21, playing with opener Sandy’s at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael.

Born in Virginia and schooled in North Carolina, Cabic first came to the Bay Area in 1998 and fell in with other emerging artists like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom.

When I spoke to Cabic last fall, as he was taking off for a short tour with Banhart, he was reluctant to talk about the then forthcoming record, saying, “I’m a little too close to it still to give much description, but it continues what I was going for with the last record.”

That last record, The Errant Charm, was released four years ago. It was a subtle and softly explorative collection of ambient jams, and Cabic’s continuation of that exploration takes the leisurely folk sound to new sonic locales as Cabic musically transforms his melodies into a variety of worldly tunes.

Some songs on Complete Strangers, like “Current Carry” are infused with bongo beats and sunny ukulele strings for a tropical sensation. Other songs, like the hypnotic “Stranger Still,” incorporate drum machine-produced blips and beats, sounding more like an Icelandic electronica project than a rock band.

Then there is the Parisian lounge pop of “Time Flies By,” a song that’s sure to be a part of director Wes Anderson’s next kitschy flick. And for anyone who misses the old Vetiver, Cabic submits an emotional country ballad, “The Last Hurrah,” which sounds just like Steve Earle in his prime.

These far-reaching expressions are a bold turn of sound for Cabic, who’s always been a master of creating effortless melody. Yet, with all these exotic influences, it’s clear that trying to predict what Cabic is going to pull out of the hat is a futile effort.

It’s also clear that the last four years have been well spent for Cabic musically, expanding his palette and utilizing Complete Strangers as a canvas on which to paint with many different brushstrokes.

Vetiver performs on Friday, August 21 at Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club Dr., San Rafael; 8pm; $20; 415/524-2773.

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