Kurt Vile comes off as a bit of a mystery at first. You listen to the guy as he mumbles and shrugs his way through a song, surrounded by some really great music. You wonder is this guy for real? You listen some more and little details, shaded nuances, and sly phrases begin to make their presence known. Grooves slowly grab you, while his guitar playing sneaks up behind you and knocks you off your feet. Melodies appear from darkened corners while a shrugged shoulders kind of smarts makes it apparent Kurt Vile is more than meets the eye. He’s got the smirk of the kid making fart noises in the back of class, but the songwriting chops and skewed intellectualism of both Neil Young and Philip K. Dick.
Kurt Vile is indeed for real.
I came into Vile’s world back in 2011 when on a whim I bought Smoke Ring For My Halo. The song “Jesus Fever” hooked me instantly. The slightly eerie, melodic refrain, the ghostly lyrics, and the almost mantra-like loping rhythm made me take note. With 2013s Wakin On A Pretty Daze I was sold. An epic double LP filled with classic rock tropes, jangly guitar, and psychedelic meditations, Wakin put Vile firmly in line to take the classic rock throne from guys like Petty and Young. Kurt Vile is back with his newest opus, the aptly titled b’lieve i’m goin down. Instead of cranking up the amp and going for jam rock heaven, Vile decided to produce this album himself. He recorded at night, giving the record a decidedly sleepy vibe. This isn’t a jam rock record, it’s classic singer/songwriter stuff. This is a nighttime record.
So, if you were hoping for some guitar jams and upbeat vibes this record may not be for you my friend. Kurt Vile has found a true comfort zone on this record, and that comfort zone is a lot quieter than last time around. “Pretty Pimpin” is the most upbeat track on the album, and it’s also the opening track. It’s also the most clear-headed and precise Vile has sounded on record. It’s a great song. One you’d hear late at night on a long car ride home and you’d crank it with the windows down. “I’m an Outlaw” showcases some great banjo work by Vile. The desert vibe of Rancho De La Luna comes across beautifully on this song. “Dust Bunnies” sports some great electric piano and a more of that slow, desert drawl. “That’s Life, tho(almost hate to say)” is a quiet, finger-picked track that shows Vile firmly in his comfort zone.
The thing with b’lieve i’m goin down is that even though it may be a creakier, quieter, and not as caffeinated long player as its predecessors were, it feels like a truly singular vibe. When you drop the needle on this album, you’re stepping into a nighttime world where the drinks are strong, the smokes are a-plenty, and the mood light is the moon shining through a smudged window. “Wheelhouse” contorts and circles like a backwards mantra, and “Life Like This” and it’s simple piano line settles in you like one long, deep toke. Vile doesn’t mumble as much as he delivers his tomes like a tired beat poet. There’s a new kind of rhythm to his lyric-spitting. “Life Like This” is a revelation. “Lost my Head there” is the poppiest song Kurt Vile has penned to date. It sounds like something Todd Rundgren would’ve penned 40 years ago. “Bad Omens” continues the great piano songs on this record, with a tip of the hat to Vile’s pal Adam Granduciel in The War On Drugs with the guitar soundscapes.
It’s safe to say Kurt Vile has found his voice. b’lieve i’m goin down is proof of that. It’s bold in that he’s not going the direction you thought he might(jangly guitar hero.) Instead, he boned up on novels by Cormac McCarthy and Philip K. Dick, disappeared into the midnight world of night owls, and hit record. When he emerged from his musical hibernation he’d made the best record of his life.
So far, anyways.