Year after year, Kurt Vile always finds a way to surprise me. This year was more of the same with the Philadelphian guitarist, as I truthfully expected Vile’s new album Bottle It In to initiate his spiral into anticipated normalcy. After an entire decade of virtually pioneering 21st century slacker rock however, Vile is still finding ways to stay fresh and continually relevant.
But how could someone who brands themselves as such a slouch stay so oddly charming? The answer is (and always has been) twofold: Kurt Vile’s relevancy relies on his prowess as a musician and his underrated ability as a storyteller.
The grandeur found in Kurt Vile’s guitar playing comes from his casual and habitual need for change. Although you can almost always count on his slow, southern drawl creeping its way into each song, Vile keeps the listener on their toes with riffs that are intrinsically one-of-a-kind. Track after track, themes progress as if Vile’s attention suddenly drifted elsewhere while his body stayed firmly planted in a city-side barstool. Whether or not people care that he’s picking away at his guitar on that proverbial stool is none of Vile’s concern. Equally unconcerning to Vile is his comparisons to other artists, especially outside of his categorical bubble. Vile explained his distaste about genre-crossing comparisons to The Daily Beast, telling them “There’s always going to be a resurgence of the guitar versus whatever…people are saying at festivals that people aren’t paying as much attention to the rock…I’m not sweating that because I can always play club shows for a while. There’s always something to do. There’s always somewhere to play. I don’t care.” That outlook may sound pessimistic, but Vile’s work-oriented apathy is realistically what keeps his riffs individually special.
While Vile’s skills as a musician are bordering on mastery, his storytelling expertise carries just as much, if not more weight than his instrumental virtuosity. Vile’s seemingly fake southern drawl may suggest a laziness in his creative inspiration, but there’s nothing lazy about multiple 10 minute tracks like “Bassackwards” and “Skinny Mini” that explore the bewilderment of life’s unanswerable questions. While his objectives are ambitious, his vision is a greater result of his attention deficit than his groundbreaking foresight. Take the opening verse from “Bassackwards” as an example:
I was on the beach but I was thinking about the bay.
Got to the bay but by then I was far away.
I was on the ground but looking straight into the sun.
But the sun went down and I couldn’t find another one
Needless to say, a man with that much instrumental talent living so firmly in the moment makes for a series of incredibly unpredictable narratives. After all, if Vile barely knows his mind’s destination, how could the attentive listener even begin to predict the journey?
When push comes to shove, Kurt Vile is going to do what he wants whenever he wants to, and there’s nothing scary or worrisome about it. He told The Daily Beast in that same interview that “I really just want to live my life. I want to record music in real time.” There’s something truly special about that headstrong tumbleweed approach, especially its indication that Kurt Vile will be creating music as long as his mind continues to wander.
Favorite Tracks: Rollin’ With The Flow, Bassackwards, Loading Zones, Come Again, Check Baby