Fifteen years from the release of their eponymous debut, Vetiver’s seventh album Up on High, is a return to the bright, airy acoustic folk of their first couple of pre-Sub Pop albums. After the poppy sounds of 2015’s Complete Strangers, the folky, airy sounds of Up on High feels like a return to form. Songwriter Andy Cabic attributes this to the writing circumstances while composing the album. While writing the songs, Cabic moved twice and his recording equipment remained boxed up. Similar to his early songwriting, the songs were largely written and sketched out on acoustic, lending themselves to the album’s relatively spare, straightforward treatments.
Up on High opens with “The Living End”, and Cabic’s raspy vocals accompanied by gentle acoustic guitars and the quiet shuffle of drums lets the listener know that they are in for the psych-folk songs that Vetiver gave us early in their career. “Hold Tight” is a standout for both the album and the band as it is totally different than anything else that they have done before. With jazzy ska guitar strumming over a funky bass line, “Hold Tight” sounds inspired by 70’s era Steely Dan. “Filigree” combines pedal steel and keyboards that bring to mind some of the alt-country feel of Wilco albums from the 90s. The pop feel of Complete Strangers can be heard on “Swaying”, where the upbeat tempo and more polished sound seems to be gearing up for a radio hit. The reverb on the guitars and vocals on the closing track “Lost (In Your Eyes)” gives the feel of a Mojave 3 song, while the title track would make James Taylor jealous.
All in all, Up on High finds Vetiver doing what they do best: folk-rock. Most of the songs on the album have the psych-folk feel of Grateful Dead albums circa 1970. Up on High does a fantastic job of combining a multitude of influences and creating a sound that is unmistakably Vetiver. The pared down tracks can be numbered amongst the best that Cabic has produced, making Up on High one of the best albums of Vetiver’s career.