Kurt Vile works in a frequency of his own making. You listen to his records and you hear an awkward and shy guy stepping out of his shell for however long that song takes. He’s confident within the worlds his songs inhabit, and really that’s where it counts. You can be an introverted guy or gal in the outside world, awkwardly making jokes and giving in to etiquette missteps when around large crowds of mumbling and handshakes. But when you’re making art, whether it be music, paintings, novels, or whatever avenue of creativity it may be you’ve gotta know to trust your own instincts.
Vile pulls influence and inspiration from Jimi Hendrix and Tom Petty to John Fahey and Mississippi John Hurt to Pavement and the Drag City crew. He takes all of those vibes, styles, and moods and turns them into something very much, well, Kurt Vile. In 2011 he dropped the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo, a mixture of acoustic ruminations and his sleepy drawl of a voice that felt part desert campfire strummers and big city ramblings in late night sessions somewhere on the south side of Philly. Singing about “Jesus Fever” and “Peeping Tomboy”, Vile gave us this psych/folk/rock hybrid record that sounded nothing like what came before it. He followed it up with two epic albums, 2013s Wakin On A Pretty Daze and 2015s b’lieve I’m goin’ down. Both albums were double LP behemoths filled with a mixture of Vile’s eccentric rock stylings and guitar noodlings that added up to what I thought sounded like an alien’s take on classic rock.
Pure Vile and pure music gold.
Now we have, in Kurt Vile’s own words, “KV’s bestest, most deepest (and possibly weirdest) record yet…” and it’s called Bottle It In. I think Kurt’s assessment is true. At 80 minutes long, the album spans from folk-sy guitar picking to zoned-out meditative 10 minute numbers, to Tom Petty-ish classic rock and roll bangers. Bottle It In feels like the closest we’ve gotten to stepping inside Kurt Vile’s head and seeing what makes him work.
Kurt Vile knows how to set the stage at the beginning of an album. He always opens with a doozy. This time around it’s the excellent “Loading Zones”, a song that sounds like something that could’ve sat proudly on Full Moon Fever, but with more of a stream-of-consciousness lyrical flow. With each successive album Kurt Vile has pushed his vocals further up into the mix, which to my ears says he’s getting more comfortable with what he has to say and how he’s saying it. This song feels like he’s come full circle in his songwriting. “Hysteria” shows Vile’s ability to build engaging songs thru percussion layering and chiming acoustics. The song pulls you into its maze-like sonics. “Yeah Bones” and its quirky rhythms and odd lyrics ups the quirky quite a bit, which only solidifies Vile being Vile.
Bottle It In showcases three amazing epic tracks as well. The first is the over 9-minute “Bassackwards”, a meditative track that rolls in like waves on the beach Kurt Vile sings about. With the reversed guitars, comfortable acoustic picking, and the loping rhythm you’re lulled into a quiet state of reflection as Vile tells us about his existential trip to the beach. This might be the best song he’s written yet. Part stoned Buddha and part drunk long hair finding the secret to the universe in the rolling waves of some nondescript beach scene. “Bottle In In” is over ten minutes of looping drum beats, distant keys, and Vile at his most impressionistic. At times this track reminds me of Sparklehorse, though I can’t see Mark Linkous ever have making a song this long. “Skinny Mini” essentially closes the album on another 10-minute note, but noisier and more experimental. It sounds the most stream-of-conscious than anything Kurt Vile as done, yet it also sounds like his most thought out jam, too. Loud guitars explode into the mix as Vile talks about this enigmatic “no jive talkin'” “baby girl”. It’s like beat poetry meets impressionistic rock jams.
In between these epic tracks are some amazing pop songs. “One Trick Ponies” ups the Petty vibes(I would’ve loved to hear them collaborate) while “Rollin’ With The Flow” has a lilting, My Morning Jacket feel. It sounds like some lost AM hit from the mid-70s. Vile at his most wistful. “Mutinies” is an odd and wonderful track. This is the proto-Vile track.
There will be a lot of hand wringing and discussion on how good or bad this record is. For my money, it’s Kurt Vile’s best album. He’s given in to all those artistic urges that maybe he skimmed the surface of on his last two albums. This time he’s working from the inside out, as opposed to outside in. Bottle It In lets go of any artistic inhibitions and gets down to freeform rambling, musical meditations, and quirky pop sensibilities to the nth degree.
Bottle It In pops the cork on Kurt Vile and lets him breathe.