I’ve generally liked the Kurt Vile I’ve heard. He’s been a nice entry point to a genre I don’t really dive into. He makes me feel like I can listen to twangy folk without having to buy a cowboy hat and ride alone into the desert.
Vile has a large, ever-growing discography, with Bottle It In being his seventh solo studio release. The album launches off with a couple of singles. First, Loading Zones and then, Hysteria; the pop hits. The opening tracks are tightly produced and heavily layered, but I wasn’t so riveted by the structure and lyricism. The chord progressions drag and to counter this, Vile throws stuff on top instead of moving into a new section. It feels like everything he says, I’ve heard before in a more eloquent way, in melodies with a bit more stick.
My partner snickers during the first two songs when we listen. ‘It’s like a whole a bunch of cliches thrown together,’ she says of his lyricism. And I get it, there’s a stream of consciousness to his songwriting that, to me, doesn’t lend any favors to his more produced and put-together songs. It feels unfinished, like the lyrics are just placeholders for something more polished, like the hooks are just not quite catching.
The album is dense, with a hefty thirteen songs. Three of which are around the ten-minute mark. I think the longer songs are where Vile shines. Here, his lyrical stream of consciousness becomes a journey. His basic progressions and layered arrangements put you in a trance. We see this in Bassackwards, which coats folky acoustic guitar lines with reversed electric guitar, and shimmering synths. The floatiness of this instrumentation is then driven by a steady beat and a plucky bassline. The hazy but steady combination creates a feeling of constant movement, of driving somewhere familiar in a dream. Perhaps the feeling of constant movement comes from Vile writing and recording these songs while touring. It’s a nice feeling to get lost in. Youtube user Zepprellain commented that Bassackwards makes them feel “nostalgia for a time that never existed…” And, perhaps the textured world that Vile builds in his long songs is enough to put people in a new place, in a different, slower paced world, where you aren’t too stressed to follow your train of thought to the end. He’s giving you room to think, which you don’t really get in his shorter tracks.
Rolling with the Flow is my personal favourite song on the album. Covering Charlie Rich, Vile modernises the song into a sort of prom night hit, with splashy guitar and simple grooves to sway to. Here, the hook sticks, the guitar drives, and the Kurt Vile style shines through. It kind of reminds me of Modest Mouse’s cover of Santo and Johnny’s Sleep Walk.
One thing that Kurt Vile wants you to know about himself is that he’s a melancholic man, and what he’s grumpy at is the whole world. ‘I want to rip the world a new one’, he sings in opening track Loading Zones. ‘The world had better come around,’ he sings in Come Again. ‘It’s a big ol’ bulbous world’ he tells us in Skinny Mini, a song about a girl who’s ‘a real wild card.’ Some may find Vile’s pensive lyrics and deadpan melody enticing and relatable. Vile lets you into his mind and his vulnerabilities, and that’s important for a musician playing in a largely masculine genre. The cowboys of this world are being told that it’s okay to feel things, to sit and share your vulnerabilities. However, I definitely don’t want to paint Vile as a progressive hero. Don’t forget, his touring band is still called Kurt Vile and the Violators, an unnecessary title which is definitely insensitive to the trauma of some.
Kurt Vile’s album Bottle It Up is a well put together album. Vile is clearly a talented songwriter and an interesting world builder, I’d just like to see him push himself and the genre harder, especially on his more accessible, shorter songs.
There’s no sign that Kurt Vile and the Violators will change their name in time for their show at Huxley’s Neue Welt tonight.