Review: Bottle It In by Kurt Vile

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing lots of advertisements for Kurt Vile’s concert in Dublin on 14 November. I’ve listened to his music while looking for new music from today that is good and inspired by the sounds of the 60s and 70s and I liked what I heard, but I haven’t listened to a whole album of his yet.

The two things stopping me from going to the concert are the usual: money and the long bus trip. I don’t really experience too much FOMO. You can’t go to everything because there’s only so much money and time, distance also makes things difficult. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

Who is Kurt Vile?

So who is Kurt Vile? Kurt Vile is indeed his real name (coincidentally his name is a pun of German composer Kurt Weill’s name) and he was born on 3 January 1980 in a suburb of Philadelphia. He grew up in a family of 10 children.

At the age of 14, his father gave him a banjo, even though Kurt really wanted a guitar. He made the most of it and played it like a guitar anyway and started writing tunes. Three years later, he created a raw sounding tape inspired by Pavement, Beck, and Smog.

Before he achieved fame, he worked as a forklift driver in the early 2000s. He lived a simple, blue collar life and felt unfulfilled and depressed. Even then, he didn’t give up on his dream of being a musician.

the War on Drugs

In 2005, he formed indie rock band the War on Drugs with lead singer Adam Granduciel, who Kurt Vile considers a best friend. They released their debut EP, Barrel of Batteries on 4 March 2008. Critics compared Granduciel’s vocals to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. It’s a good EP, I like the songs “Buenos Aires Beach” and “Arms Like Boulders.”

Kurt Vile left the band shortly after their 2008 debut, Wagonwheel Blues was released, so he could focus on his solo career. Some of the songs from the EP are on there. The album has a raw and a bit ambient sound. I like the songs “Taking the Farm,” “There is No Urgency,” “A Needle in Your Eye #16,” and “Show Me The Coast.”

Solo Career

Kurt Vile is a prolific musician, celebrating 15 years in the music industry this year. To go through all of his albums would take a long time, so I’ll sum them up in a nutshell.

2008 was a busy year for Vile because he also released his debut solo album, Constant Hitmaker. Most of the album was made up of home recordings, except for the opening track, “Freeway,” which was recorded at Miner Street Studios. The album cover is a tribute to Bob Dylan, particularly the artwork for his 1978 album Street-Legal. My favourite songs on the album are “Freeway,” “Breathin Out,” “Slow Talkers,” and “Classic Rock In Spring/Freeway in Mind” (you know this title caught my eye). 

His sophomore album, God is Saying This to You… is a short compilation of recordings he made in the early 2000s from his more simple, lo-fi era. It’s a quick listen at under 30 minutes long and gives you a feel for what his beginnings in music were, putting the newer music in context. Overall a great album with lots of solid tracks. Too many songs I like on here to name.

The third album is called Childish Prodigy and Vile called this his masterpiece. It was the first album he made that he put lots of money into and his true cohesive studio album. That investment of thousands is something you can notice in the production quality and music – his backing band, The Violators are more involved in this album than the previous two. This was also his first album on Matador Records. If you like raw, rough psychedelic rock, you’ll like this album. My favourite songs are “Dead Alive,” “Freak Train,” “Blackberry Song,” and bonus track “He’s Alright.”

Smoke Ring for My Halo was Vile’s first album to receive critical acclaim with Mojo Magazine ranking it at #12 on its Top 50 Albums of 2011 list. Uncut and Pitchfork also included the album high up on their top albums of the year lists. You could call this his breakthrough album. He calls it his first hi-fi album.

Two years later, Wakin On a Pretty Daze was released. At 69 minutes, it was longer than his previous albums. The title of the album is a simple play on words of the opening track, “Wakin on a Pretty Day.”

The reason the songs are longer and more ambitious was simple, it’s the next step. Vile told exclaim.ca, “It was just the next logical step from making succinct pop songs. What do you do after that? You make pop songs that are longer and more epic, that push the envelope. Imagine your favourite song, or something that you play over and over in the car, except that you don’t have to start it over as much.” The influences on the album are mostly from the 80s.

The album cover is of Vile standing in front of a mural in his hometown of Philadelphia. The art references all the tracks of the album. Again, multiple music magazines ranked this high on their top albums of 2013 lists.

In the five years between Wakin On a Pretty Daze and Bottle It In, Vile has released a lot of music, including the album, b’lieve i’m goin down and Lotta See Lice, a collaboration between him and Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett.

He has also opened for one of his biggest inspirations, Neil Young, and played at festivals like Bonnaroo, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Lollapalooza.

One of Vile’s biggest accomplishments “Pretty Pimpin’” was his most commercially successful single, topping the US Adult Alternative charts.

First Impressions: Bottle It In

Now, we get to the main event, the reason I am writing this blog post, Bottle It In. I noticed it on Spotify and gave the first track a listen and felt like I was pulled into it easily. The album cover is very 70s from the font to the colourful stripes and Kurt Vile’s long hair. Kurt Vile took a big leap, with the album being nearly an hour and 20 minutes long – it’s released as a double LP. It’s not a frustrating listen, like some people found the 81 minute long 1973 Yes album Tales from Topographic Oceans to be. You’ll hear country, psychedelic, and folk sounds. The lyrics are very diary and stream of consciousness like and delivered in a laid back way.

The album was recorded in multiple cities in between tour dates. Vile said that he didn’t like to record in just one place. Recording music in different parts of the country can be inspiring because of all the different scenery. Guest musicians on the album include Cass McCombs, Kim Gordon, Mary Lattimore, and Stella Mozgawa.

“Loading Zones”

The album begins with a wah-wah sound and some fingerpicking guitar, before Vile starts telling a story of his hometown. The song has some country influences and you hear a nice twang in the vocals. I love the echos in the song with the vocal “I park for free.” It was an excellent start to the album. This song reached #14 on the US Adult Alternative charts.

Don’t let the track length fool you, this is not a simple pop song, it’s still a complex song, just not as long as some of the other tracks on the album.

“Hysteria”

A slower song. One of my favourite lyrics from it is “mm girl you gave me rabies, and I don’t mean maybe.” I’m a sucker for rhymes.

“Bassackwards”

Definitely a highlight of the album. It’s one of the three epic songs, at around 10 minutes a piece, you get 30 minutes of epic psychedelic, fuzzy music. This song was released as a single in September. The music video has a retro random videos from a family vacation found in the attic feel to it and I love watching music videos like that, I feel like I lived in a time that I didn’t live in.

I love the title and I keep reading it as “Backasswards.” Overall, really chill psychedelic folk rock that I can put on while I work on my blog. It uses all 9 minutes and 46 seconds perfectly. Where was this song while I was working on my thesis?

“One Trick Ponies”

Released eight days before the album’s release date, this relatable love song has a cool retro music video with Vile walking around in the forest. Vile is always someone who makes jokes and observations about himself and the lyric “I’ve always had a soft spot for repetition” is a reference to his repetitious guitar riffs that loop within the song. In this interview with Spin, Vile explains the story behind the song. I’m no stranger to self-deprecating jokes.

“Rollin’ With The Flow”

The only cover on the album.The song was made famous by country singer Charlie Rich in 1977. In a way, Vile’s version reminds me a bit of The Flying Burrito Brothers, but with a Lou Reed like vocal delivery.

“Check Baby”

A song inspired by the ubiquitous mic check at every gig. Inspiration can really come from everywhere and this is an example of his sense of humour. It would be interesting to hear this song live.

“Bottle It In”

The title track is a nearly 11 minute long relatable, sombre song. Having to “bottle it in” is something I had to do a lot, to try to hide my feelings because of the stigma of depression and anxiety. I’m not sure if this song needed to be this long.

“Mutinies”

This song is all about the stress of technology, again, speaks to a lot of us. “Small computer in my hand explodin’/ I think things were way easier with a regular telephone-ment,” referring to all the notifications and missing the simplicity of the old days. I can imagine a musician as busy as Kurt Vile experiences this a lot. I get why people take social media breaks. Took a few breaks myself this year and it really cleared my head.

“Come Again”

In my opinion, this is one of the stronger songs on the album. I love the banjo in the intro. I love the guitars on this one.

“Cold Was The Wind”

I like the ambient nature sounds mixed with the guitar. It’s another relaxing, chill tune.

“Skinny Mini”

The last of the 10 minute long epics. Has talking blues and country influences to it. I like the guitars. The guitar solos are really interesting in this song.

“(bottle back)”

A bit of a throwback to his old albums where he ends them with a short kind of experimental track that’s about a minute long or less.

Final Thoughts

Listening to his entire discography and putting this album in context, I would say that this isn’t my favourite release of his, but it’s an interesting one and I like hearing the instrumental jams. It’s a bit relaxed for my taste, kind of reminding me of the Life is Strange soundtrack, and I’m finding I’m more of a fan of Vile’s earlier more lo-fi work. If you are in the chill sort of mood, this is a good album to play. He calls it his Born in the USA, but I wouldn’t agree with that. Maybe after a few listens I might change my mind.

It’s not the most radio friendly, so I’m not sure if it will achieve radio play outside of maybe college or freeform stations that don’t care about song length. The closest to a standout song like “Pretty Pimpin” would be “Loading Zones” and that was great, but not as good as “Pretty Pimpin.” No song was bad, but I’m going to be a tough grader here.

I’m not sure if I would want to buy it on vinyl, but I like the idea of the split purple pink vinyl Matador Records offer as an exclusive in their shop. If I were to give this album a grade, I’d give it a B, pretty much a consensus among album reviews that I’ve read. I would definitely give this album another listen.

The strongest points of the album were “Loading Zones”, “Bassackwards”, and “Come Again”.

Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.

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