Kurt Vile: Bottle It in review – pin-sharp insights through a slacker haze

(Matador Records)

Playing big theatres and releasing an average of an album a year for eight years suggests steely professionalism, but Philadelphia songwriter Kurt Vile still thankfully sounds like a guy on a skateboard who tries to sell you a 10-bag after asking you for directions. His distinctive drawl suggests a somewhat fugged mind, something that the lyrics back up: on Bassackwards, he’s doing a radio show under the influence of something or other, saying of his co-host “I appreciate him to the utmost degree” with a stoner’s ironic grandeur. On Hysteria, he “took a drink of a dream smoothie / and all of a sudden I’m feeling very loopy”. But if he’s high, he’s surfing a crystalline state of amused, outward-facing insight, rather than crashing into catatonic self-regard (even if, on Mutinies, he bashfully admits to popping pills to shut up the voices in his head).

Kurt Vile: Bottle It in, album artwork
Kurt Vile: Bottle It in, album artwork Photograph: Handout

There’s a sturdy quality to the neat, cute repetitions in his guitar backings, the bamboo that the bindweed of his voice trails around, and while the drums still tread the same happy trudge, he adds some well-chosen new flavours. There’s mellifluous crooning on Rollin With the Flow, country-soul backing vocals from Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa on the beautiful One Trick Ponies, a rather menacing electronic murk behind Check Baby, a bit of deep clarinet on the title track; Cold Was the Wind puts the bong in bongos. Best of all is his decision to let four songs wander up to, and sometimes over, the 10-minute mark – this amplifies the bean-baggy vibe, and lets Vile’s idling poetry really find its slacker voice. It also allows room, on Skinny Mini, for two great guitar solos, where jazzy improvisation turns into big fuzz chords, like a traditional solo deconstructed into separate notes. Lesser musicians would make these songs as boring as a drugs story you aren’t involved in, but Vile ultimately has such an instinctive facility for melodic logic that behind the shaggy locks and purple haze, there’s a clear-headed, big-hearted songwriter at work.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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