Whatever lingering connections to freak folk Vetiver still showed on 2009’s Tight Knit get shaken off altogether on The Errant Charm. While that means that frontman Andy Cabic and his cohorts are prone to fewer ambling instrumental and lyrical digressions on their latest album, it’s a questionable aesthetic decision for a band of Vetiver’s status. They didn’t develop the sizable cult followings that fellow freak-folk acts Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom did back when the subgenre had its ephemeral moment in vogue, but to move completely away from that style at this juncture leaves Vetiver as just another indie-pop band. And though it’s pleasant enough, The Errant Charm is rarely more than just another indie-pop record.
Vetiver is an act that has often been overlooked, and The Errant Charm simply doesn’t offer a whole hell of a lot to change that: It’s not like there’s a shortage of competent bands along the Shins/Death Cab/Fleet Foxes axis. Anchored by Cabic’s lilting tenor and a straightforward style that’s built around unfussy acoustic folk songs, Vetiver is certainly a capable band. “Can’t You Tell,” with its insistent percussion line, layered atmospheric effects, and effortless melody, makes for a strong standalone single, as would “Right Away,” which boasts gently jangling guitars that recall early R.E.M.—or, you know, current Decemberists.
The problem, then, is that the best tracks on The Errant Charm all draw those kinds of comparisons to other, more accomplished bands. “Wonder Why” centers around a fantastic guitar figure and a shuffling country-rock groove that’s well-matched to its “When is this old world gonna treat me kind” refrain, but the whole song sounds like it could have been lifted from any Old 97s record. Because Cabic’s songwriting, like most other aspects of the band’s approach, doesn’t draw much attention to itself, there just isn’t any substance here to distinguish Vetiver from entirely too many other bands that have released albums like this. Vetiver weren’t particularly freakish purveyors of freak folk to begin with, but in becoming so deliberately inoffensive, The Errant Charm makes them sound more like a Shins cover band than an act with its own distinct identity.