Up On High could have used a bit more of that unique perspective.
Up on High finds Andy Cabic diving into the ongoing journey of everyday life. It’s a fitting theme for Vetiver’s style of breezy folk and conversational vocals. The music is the sound of spending the day relaxing in a park or on a back porch. While those days can be enjoyable, they usually don’t leave lasting memories. Up on High has the same problem.
The album starts well enough with “The Living End.” A gently strummed acoustic pattern sits alongside chilled-out electric picking, putting the attention on Cabic’s desire for a better journey before he reaches the end of the road. “A race for the finish line/ Late though I know that I’m/ Nearer now,” he sings. But there are also missed opportunities, such as when the bridge chugs along with no musical change.
“To Who Knows Where” improves with a similar subject, as Cabic’s wandering spirit is caught between the road and his care for another. Even though he needs his partner, he adds, “But the lilacs bloom/ Their sweet perfume/ And I have to go.” With a stripped-back and warm acoustic tone, the song sounds like an outtake from Beck’s Sea Change. It’s one of the strongest pieces here. Also great is the upbeat “Swaying,” a nice change of pace that brings in a head-bopping arrangement. It’s for those moments where you grab another’s hand and run off to see where you wind up, with “The night all shook up, tempest-tossed.”
Other love songs on Up on High have mixed results. “All We Could Want” is a declaration of dedication, but one that could use a bit more passion. When Cabic sings, “Until the end/ Beyond what we intend/ Our lives belong together,” the words are there but the emotion behind them will leave you wanting. The title track also goes back to the romantic well, but is a retread of better tracks on this album. “Lost (In Your Eyes)” puts a cool effect on Cabic’s voice, sounding like it’s coming through an old radio speaker. You can picture a couple slow-dancing to this tune in a living room. But it stumbles badly with generic lyrics. I don’t know if anyone can use the line “I’m lost in your eyes” without being met by an eyeroll.
Vetiver also finds varied levels of success when it comes to a relationship’s end. “A Door Shuts Quickly” finds impact in a romance’s sudden collapse. “Had I known we would part, I’d things to ask you/ I’ll never know now,” Cabic sings, his voice resigned and tired. While the fingerpicked guitar melody is alright, the track is elevated by swelling background guitar notes. “Hold Tight” is powered by an almost jazzy vibe, filled with taunt, scratchy guitar chords and slippery bass. Cabic’s lyrics though range from effective (“The consequence of short-sighted bets”) to banal (“You only got what you got ’til it’s gone.”)
While love and relationships play a role in most people’s journeys, it’s far from the only aspect. There’s also the weight of familial history, which Vetiver explores on “Filigree.” With a strumming pattern that brings to mind “Proud Mary,” Cabic goes into the value of messages passed down through generations. “Kind words/ Gleam from the pages/ Like jewels of ages/ Passed down to me,” he sings, taking stock of the value of his relationships through an unexpected and compelling angle.
Up On High could have used a bit more of that unique perspective, looking at other parts of life’s journeys that aren’t such well-trodden ground. Still, although Vetiver mainly covers romance and wanderlust, some songs bring a pleasant, relaxed view that will make for a great listen on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Other tracks unfortunately don’t fare as well. There are some stumbles, but also some moments of shining success. And isn’t that what life is all about?