Vetiver, aka Andy Cabic, composed Complete Strangers to the rhythm of his own footsteps. As he walked the Silicon-paved streets of San Francisco, the seeds of his first offering in five years sprouted and matured. Cabic describes the LP as a work of transition and duality, where “sunshine is only a chord away from melancholy.”
Throughout Complete Strangers, the expansive arrangements of producer Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Beachwood Sparks) frame Cabic’s soothing vocals, enriching its 10 tracks with weight and energy. Anchored by gauzy synths, “Stranger Still” starts off shapeless and ambient but soon builds with a crisp acoustic guitar, maracas, violins, and horns. Single “Current Carry”, featuring a twangy pedal steel and interwoven electric guitars, is smooth and sweet, sounding like a folk pop tune off 2009’s Tight Knit. The same goes for “Loose Ends”, which matches a quick, urgent tempo to jangly riffs and razzing lyrics: “The game of fame you’re playing/ Will surely make you disappear.”
Like all Vetiver albums, this one also navigates some thorny emotional terrain. Somber, reflective “Confiding” leads with haunting lyrics, as Cabic laments that even fond memories can be mixed blessings: “The few dreams I remember/ I want badly to forget/ Purest lies, allure too perfect.” Channeling a similarly dour sentiment on “Backwards Slowly”, the song’s protagonist is literally blinded by ambition. Like a deer in the headlights or a moth drawn to flame, he trudges toward his own demise: “The sight of every light he chased/ Put a glare in his eyes.”
In the Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac pronounces a pithy and effective means for classifying folk music: “If it was never new and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.” Despite the synths that peek out from behind Cabic’s introspective ruminations, Vetiver’s sixth LP fits within this framework. Complete Strangers is a subtle album that feels immediately familiar, yet reveals fresh and unexpected elements with each new listen.
Essential Tracks: “Stranger Still”, “Current Carry”, and “Loose Ends”