The Philadelphia rocker dropped the most successful album of his career with his last solo LP, 2015’s B’lieve I’m Goin Down. Then, last year, he released an acclaimed collaboration album with Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, Lotta Sea Lice. Now 38 and set to release his seventh solo album, Kurt Vile is continuing on his upward trajectory, whilst documenting his fears, hopes, and dreams on this, his most personal album to date.
Recorded over a period of two and a half years, in various locations, and studios – and in-between touring and child rearing commitments – the free-flowing Bottle It In clocks in at around a very long 80 minutes. It’s chock-full of classic rock, pop and folk sensibilities, mostly driven by his love of repetition, along with a strong undertow of lo-fi and psychedelia, and topped off by his distinctive nasal drawl, and meandering musings.
The repetitive grooves, mostly with the aid of his long time collaborators The Violators, take centre stage throughout; often languid, sometimes pacey, occasionally heavy, but almost invariably anchored, allowing him to lyrically stroll, and perform via his superlative guitar playing, that is measured, and rarely indulgent. Such as on ‘Bassakwards’, almost ten minutes of dreamy rock replete with backward guitars, ambient keys, all driven by acoustic motifs, and an unhurried beat and bass groove. Similarly, the title track includes shuffling drums from regular contributor, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, plucked harp courtesy of Mary Lattimore, and vocals from Cass McCombs, delivered with a melancholy, hypnotising purpose.
‘Check It Baby’ lays it on a bit heavier, a deeper groove and bass, big beat, and stabbing vintage synth allowing the space to work his snaking, sleazy guitar, before he lets rip, unshackled and confident in the moment: “It’s easy like 456, anybody got a pick / Then fill the rest with slick, slick licks”. Meanwhile, ‘One Trick Ponies’ is powered by a languidly rolling groove that recalls a warm summer’s day of just hanging out with, and remembering, old friends and loved ones.
Elsewhere, Vile detours down less-is-more eclectic avenues, such as on the circling, wah-wah rich ‘Loading Zones’, the mutated African-bluegrass simplicity of ‘Come Again’, the gentle, repeating arpeggio – and Kim Gordon’s splashes of acoustic feedback – of ‘Mutinies’, the vinyl crackling textures of the warped and downbeat ‘Cold Was the Wind’, and the country-pop flavoured ‘Rollin’ with the Flow’ (a cover of a Charlie Rich tune), again Vile simply enjoying the moment, and seemingly thankful: “Once there was a thought in my head, before I reached 30 I would be dead / But somehow on and on I go, I keep on rollin’ with the flow”.
For sure, he may look and sound like the archetypal slacker rocker dude, but there’s no doubting his appetite for making music, on his own terms, even if it does meander a little too much in its entirety. Yet, Bottle It In is a journey, musically and thematically, documenting a barely concealed fear, whilst snuggling up close to those who matter. Those who help put the fear back in the bottle.