So can we agree on something? You’ve got to be in the mood for Kurt Vile. Not that I’m saying he doesn’t have a legion of fans, baked guitar bros who flex their toes on a recliner and eat beans from the pan. Not that I’m saying he’s dull either. The man has character. It is rare that a “woooo!” can burst into music so often without resentment. You just kinda . . . yeah . . . go with it, hang for a while. He sonically dexterous, and mentally hovering on a cloud quite low to earth. It’s a place you want to be for about twenty minutes.
But I like it sometimes and there’s a spiritual edge to his material that forgoes an active God for a simpler kind of peace. That’s what virtuosos do: they make it look easy.
It’s hardly surprising that Vile, in an AMBY interview, said that he doesn’t like the adoption of new gear when he plays festivals, the marked unknowingness of a setup that doesn’t work or sound like he wants it to. For a man who picks his mood so literally and consistently, there must be control. Bottle It In is hardly the appropriate descriptor for an album that expresses such lubriciousness in the studio; one that, with producer Shawn Everett, is given to longueurs. But now and then, you’ll actually catch yourself humming something, because Kurt’s too good at riffing. His compositions are made for deliberation on a single theme, bounding on his repetitive string plucks.
You might take ‘Loading Zones’ as a case of emotional appeal. “Back is achin’ but I cannot sleep / ‘Cause I wanna be the mayor of some godforsaken town.” We can hate the world, or hug it, but we like to dump the weight in life’s small victories, such as not paying a parking ticket when fate is against us. With that opening we’re sent to regiments of pavements, small-town slackery made tolerable by wakin’ on a pretty daze. Then we get to a song like ‘Yeah Bones’, the equivalent of a grin so large you can barely contain it (resoundingly, too, one of the best tracks in Vile’s catalogue). Then the perfect leap into ‘Bassackwards’, the centrepiece of the LP and sedative paint pot for his studio skills, using undulating reverse tape FX to bear us to the death of ego as we lie in the sun, the grass, speaking to a friend.
Till this point, the album is brilliant. Then it swan dives, in a graceful Vile-ish way, to whittle your patience. Endearment makes space for interminable abstraction.
‘One Trick Ponies’ is alright, with a welcome female backing, yet doodles about for longer than it should. ‘Check Baby’ and the title tune are further symptoms of the fact that his guitar lines, at the measured pace they’ll unwaveringly set, can’t hold everything on their own. Neither can Vile’s singing, which would be fine if it weren’t for the elasticity of his songs.
‘Bottle It In’, particularly, is pretty boring. The harp and the softness – the break from hazed out amplification – is a breath of life before it’s sucked into a lazy afternoon on a spinny chair. You can actually see Kurt right there, can’t you, turning himself on the corner of a table when he spins round again, musing, “Don’t tell them / That you love them / For their own sake. / Cos you’re never gonna know when your heart’s gonna break . . .”
But we still have the first half’s vibrancy, the charming acceptance of a man who keeps ‘Rollin’ With The Flow’ just sticking by doing his thing, no harm to anybody – we have the knowledge that it’s gonna be fine, and simple, an answer to what life demands of us; that we’re going to overcome it. That we can smile and let hardship roll off our backs. That’s a feeling I’ll return to.