Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Gray Young — Firmament

Don’t let the name fool you; not a single one of the three members of Gray Young (www.myspace. com/grayyoung) bear the actual name themselves. Instead, the meaning behind the band’s name is just as ambiguous as the categorization of rock music in which they fall. There are some leanings toward shoe-gaze, though their latest album Firmament lacks the intricate lyricism that denotes otherwise. One thing is for certain, however: Firmament plays like a slow-moving boulder rolling down a low-grade hill. There’s very little variation through the first few tracks, but it grows into an unremitting force after momentum is allowed to build. Despite the dramatic urgency of the opening track “Provenance,” the direction of the album doesn’t truly become evident until “Cavalcade for Sundown,” where the anticlimactic droning breaks momentarily for a gentle, Tortoise-esque bass interlude. It’s not an album full of singles by any means; Firmament demands to be heard all in one sitting, otherwise it becomes just another meandering post-rock jumble of build-and-release guitar and drum interplay. Well actually, it still is that, but it never approaches the level of myopic pretention that many of their predecessors in the field do. It’s sleek, low-maintenance and practical like an Acura TL, with plenty of bells and whistles to break the monotony. “Ghost Notes” transcends instrumentation almost altogether in favor of ambient noise with but a scant flavoring of reverbed guitar, while “Aurora” closes the album out with spaced-out organ and minimalist guitar phrasing that would make U2’s the Edge blush. Firmament never overindulges into sheer monotony and its listeners will be thankful for that.

Vetiver — Tight Knit

Like the wispy, tropical grass which also bears the name, Vetiver ( can best be described as a band that’s delicately complex and invigorating to behold. Since his mid-’90s tenure with the Raymond Brake, songwriter Andy Cabic migrated from Greensboro to San Francisco and has since absorbed all elements of the bustling folk scene. From the surrealist psychedelia of Devandra Barnhardt to the avant-garde modernism of Joanna Newsome, he incorporates a swath of influence from his contemporaries in Vetiver’s new release Tight Knit. As if his muses weren’t brought to light from his album of rather obscure covers entitled Thing of the Past (Loudon Wainwright III, Townes Van Zandt and Bobby Charles to name a few), Cabic’s appreciation for the masters transforms from simple reinterpretation to refinement on Vetiver’s newest. The attention to detail throughout the album is noteworthy, from the gentle sizzle of the cymbals on the ethereal “Rolling Sea” to the Worrellian funk flavor of “Another Reason to Go.” I don’t like to peg any track as future marketing fodder, but some exec is bound to come along and snatch up the sweet hooks of “Everyday” to sell something or other. It’s a song that provides a prefect representative sample of the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed sensation that Cabic throws out. Tight Knit has all of the ingredients to lead a Californian country-rock renaissance; its mid-tempo pacing, sun-drenched vibe and attentive instrumentation coalesce to form mellow mood music for even the most musically astute among us.

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