If you've been to a local club show in the past year in San Francisco with more than two bands on the bill, chances are one of those bands was one of THOSE bands. You know -- a bunch of hirsute young dudes, a couple of girls who look like they stepped out of a Swedish commune circa 1972, all sitting cross-legged with their banjos and 12-strings and poorly strung sitars, looking ever so tripped-out, man. There's always one chick banging on a drum and looking bored, one member who is an actual musician, and the rest are just happy to be deemed cool enough to tinkle a little bell or pluck a lute in the "band." The freak-folk revolution has grabbed hold like no one could have imagined. Even the New York Times is in on the scene. I am a fan of the neo-freakies, but if I have to endure one more of these quasi "collective" musical ensembles, which are always the solipsistic brain-child of some twenty-year-old art school dropout, I'm gonna stay home!
Anyway, that said, I totally dig Devendra Banhart. I love Joanna Newsom and I absolutely adore Vetiver. These are the grandmasters of this strange little hippie movement, and for good reason. The music of Vetiver is gentle, moving, and beautifully well-written. Although the bleak artwork on this new album looks like it should be for some goth-industrial band (until you check out the band photos -- beards, beards and more beards!), the music is pure, pastoral, virgin forest goodness.
Vetiver bandleader Andy Cabic stands head and shoulders above the rest, with his quavering voice channeling the yearning and wonder of George Harrison and the plaintive wistfulness of Jerry Garcia. There are melodies, there is depth, there is a purpose for these pieces to exist beyond just the sheer stoned joy of strumming a guitar for hours on end. To Find Me Gone takes the loveliness of Vetiver's debut album to the next level -- a deeper, moodier place which expands with each simple rhythm, tasty string arrangement, and warbly organ swell. There are even some rockin' moments, however fleeting, that intensify but don't distract from the vibe. The songs echo the sweet strains of the 60s and early 70s, from the Turtles-like "You May Be Blue," to American Beauty-era Grateful Dead on "Maureen." If you have been wondering where to start with this hairy scene, To Find Me Gone can be the beginning and end of your freak-folk search. Perhaps it will inspire you to dig further, or perhaps you will just be satisfied with this one foray into the forest. Whatever, man, it's your own trip.