b’lieve i’m goin down

Kurt Vile

Matador, 2015


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Much of what one reads about Kurt Vile in reviews concerns the term “stoner rock,” “low-key,” “folk,” and “introspective” and so forth, and such descriptions are necessary for music writing but hardly tell the whole story. In some cases, they can paint a picture before you’ve even heard a note, which does a disservice to an artist’s rich vision and complex personality.

There are elements of Vile’s sixth record that are low-key and folk, to be sure, matched with a healthy dose of idiosyncracy and late-night guitar noodling. Pressed to describe this album in an early interview, Vile described it as a darker, more introspective affair written in those late-night hours after everyone has gone to bed. There’s really nothing “stoner” about it except perhaps the tempo, which doesn’t differ from many other folk-rock acts of the last, say, 50 years.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In fact, Vile’s songs develop a kinetic chemistry that unfolds over repeated plays. Each song hums with intensity and personality, the sonic details emerging underneath the relatable, quietly witty lyrics. There’s a little more banjo and piano and less electric guitar, which will give this hipster/Starbucks appeal, but there’s not a moment where Vile is indulgent or anything less than honest.

It’s a toss-up whether “Dust Bunnies” or “Pretty Pimpin’” is the better song; the latter is rightly receiving some radio airplay and is likely how many who don’t know Vile yet will be exposed, while the former is a folk-country-rock hybrid with its own grace that manages to be both pulse-racing and melancholy.

The evocative, emotional acoustics of “That’s Life, tho” and “Wheelhouse” evoke both late nights and far-off deserts; these songs appear in the center of the record and are a combined 13 minutes, but it’s tough not to feel Vile’s magnetic pull, like you’re in the room with him. Granted, pulling off a song like “Wheelhouse” live would be tricky, simply because of how the subtle keyboard washes, the fingerpicked guitar riff, and the general dreamy atmosphere are only possible in a studio, and because it would rob the song of its impact.

Vile’s approach recalls other emotional and darkly funny solo troubadours like Leonard Cohen, ‘70s era Dylan, and Nick Drake, but his songwriting is definitely modern, even if it sounds like little else on the radio. I can’t recall a song with such a simple ascending piano riff, John McLaughlin-style guitar, and mumbled spoken/sung verses, but “Life Like This” has all of those things and manages to be both jaunty and dimly lit. “Stand Inside” returns to lovely acoustic guitar picking, recalling Jose Gonzalez’s superb Veneer album in its closeness and authority.

Immediate, warm, and thoughtful, Kurt Vile’s sixth record is worth seeking out.

Rating: B

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