Kurt Vile is a quiet revolution.
Thanks to his early association with The War On Drugs and a mellowed-out back catalogue that seems to draw on Americana’s Stetson-sporting greats, he’s fast become the comfortingly acceptable face of country’s recent renaissance.
Exaggeration aside, it’s a title he’d probably be willing to accept given that he’s too in love with his influences to really parody a genre that’s always ripe for a kicking.
In an age of insincerity, he’s incredibly far from being at odds with such a well-crafted musical identity, but instead a proud melder of prairie-scraping Springsteenian rock and dustbowl-cleansing Grand Old Opry-type ballads. An engaging cult concern with a refreshing passion for genre pastiche; he’s also a modern artist unburdened by the pressures of embracing trends or following the crowd.
Vile’s allegiance to this type of authenticity and self-awareness continues on “Bottle It In”. It’s as relaxed and unrestrained a record as we’ve come to expect from alt-country’s most notorious perfectionist, a cogent yet meandering exercise in genre with a drive and fluidity that shrewdly mimics the nomadic nature of its creator’s existence over its two-and-a-half-year gestation period.
On each listen, what we hear is Vile building everything from the bottom up and giving life to songs as they grow and take sometimes unexpected pleasurable turns. Full spectrums of emotion and tempo are often encompassed in the space between a chorus and a verse, and single songs can range greatly in approach from one track to the next.
Witness the oppositional pairing of “Hysteria” and “Yeah Bones”, a seamless meeting between a slow-burner and a meatier ditty in a clash of styles neatly repeated across the album.
For every rockier excursion, of which “Check Baby” is an exuberant example, there’s a protracted ballad (“Skinny Mini”) or hushed acoustic entry (“Mutinies”) to dutifully redress the sonic balance. Demonstrable evidence of Vile’s studious nature and mastery of craft.
What does remain constant, though, is Vile’s well-worn slacker ideology, with “Bottle It In” making an arresting new art form of such languidness throughout all of its strangely relaxed ambiences, and taking Vile’s heretofore distinctive quirks to unparalleled new heights.
“Come Again” coolly throws banjo strings into an already laid-back instrumental melting pot with “Cold Was The Wind”’s delicacy doing little to disturb the calming stupor.
Not even “Rollin’ With The Flow”, which channels the furious anger of On The Beach-era Neil Young, can breach such an air of tranquillity or stop “Bottle It In” from meting out dreamy images of scorched deserts and sun-drenched vistas like nobody’s business.
“You never know when your heart is going to break” Vile wryly sings on the album’s shuffling, upbeat title track. “The day you stop making records, Kurt” is our enthusiastic reply.
Savour him, music fans, those of Vile’s prodigious ilk only come along once in a lifetime.
Words: Dan Owens
Kurt Vile – ‘Bottle It In’ is released on Matador Records Friday 12 October 2018.