Kurt Vile invites you into his lounge for a chill and a chat. He might go on a bit sometimes, but that's just fine by me.
I was pretty excited for Bottle It In way before its release, having been given ‘Loading Zones’ on a mixtape (of all things!) and enjoying it far more than I ought to – loving its brand of burly rock tinged with Kurt Vile’s stereotypically ‘slacker-core’ lyrical stings. Listening to Bottle It In for the first time, I was pretty disappointed that the same ethos hadn’t been applied across the whole album – and was fairly quick to dismiss it as one of Vile’s weaker releases. ‘Loading Zones’ as a flagship single is incredibly different to the rest of the album – it has a rock ‘n’ roll twang, brunt and sense of fun that doesn’t really appear anywhere else on Bottle It In. I was considering that maybe it was an anomaly – perhaps a similar story to ‘Pretty Pimpin’ or ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’ (gotta love droppin’ those ‘g’s) on his previous albums, but to a new extreme. Perhaps my sights were set low after Lotta Sea Lice – personally a fairly disappointing release from two of my favourite artists. Perhaps I’m also a little bummed-out on Kurt Vile after sister act The War on Drugs seemingly eclipsed him in sound, vision and, in the end, popularity. Either way, my first pass-through of Bottle It In left me a little unsatisfied.
However, just a few days after that initial experience, I put Bottle It In on whilst sharing some drinks and a meal with my housemates… and it just clicked. Whilst I’ve been straining to listen, sifting through, picking apart and digesting, Kurt has just been sitting there patiently. He knew I’d come around. This album is wonderful. Why I thought that an album from stoner icon and eternal Guitar Centre™ employee Kurt Vile would be anything but an album to ‘chill with ur buds’ to is beyond me. Because Vile does exactly that, crafting a loping, downtempo soundtrack to the chilliest evening in possible – he doesn’t know where he’s going, where he started or how he’ll get there, but the sludgy sonic landscape that’s lazily painted here is exactly his kind of jam. Take ‘Bassackwards’ for example – a single from the album that perhaps suggested this relaxed approach to songwriting – it relaxes within itself and drips through your speakers like so much psych-rock honey. It doesn’t care that it sprawls out far longer than it really ought to – it’s just there. Chillin’.
‘Bassackwards’ isn’t the only example of this – there are so many songs on the album that stretch to more than 10 minutes of strangely psychedelic jam sessions, in the end acting as the perfect ‘bed’ to your aimless chatter. Vile will pop off a solo here and there, a rousing chorus on occasion and even some peculiar instrumentation – but none of it is too distracting from the core of his music – simple, trudging trailer-rock that just ain’t too strenuous to put in your ears. ‘Check Baby’ is a personal highlight, with Vile’s elated ‘whoops’ cutting through bluesy riffs that evoke a smoky late-night blues bar on the side of some desert highway – eventually bursting into a distorted solo at roughly the halfway mark – leaving oh so much room in the song to sprawl, stretch out and experiment even after its climax. The speedier, twangy ‘Yeah Bones’ reminds me a lot of a more uptempo ‘Shame Chamber’ from Vile’s previous album, and ‘Hysteria’ sounds as sonically dense as anything that Granduciel’s The War on Drugs might put out, but with a more muted and less bombastic palate. Vile has stated in interviews that his lyrics are often improvised alongside the tracks that house them, and on Bottle It In this improvisational style reveals a more personal side to Kurt Vile, the champion of everything being ‘just fine, man’. Verses like “When nobody calls me on the phone /Won’t break your bones over it /I don’t believe myself lonesome” highlight this better than anything else – Vile’s delivery suggesting a denial of an inner lonesomeness that being the kind of artist he is brings around – maybe he really “don’t recognise the man in the mirror” from B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down.
The front cover of Bottle It In, like most of Vile’s albums, depicts him, guitar in hand, looking into the camera with an assured confidence. Contrary to those other albums, the aforementioned picture of Vile is a bit grubby, a little worn and worse for wear. I don’t think this is suggestive of anything other than this iteration of Vile being a little rougher around the edges, a little weirder and a little choppier. That finished product isn’t aesthetically perfect, perhaps, but it conjures up a weird kind of borrowed nostalgia – a music experience akin to catching up with an old friend, watching the evening drift by.
Bottle It In is out now via Matador Records