Review Summary: A one-trick pony we embrace
In what has become his signature laid-back vocal delivery, Kurt Vile remarks, “I’ve always had a soft spot for repetition”
in the verse of his single, “One Trick Ponies.” If there’s one line that could sum-up Vile’s tried-and-true approach to songwriting, you’ve got it right there.
The thing is, repetition is arguably the most important quality that Kurt Vile holds as a songwriter. Going into any of his albums, someone that’s heard the Philly musician before will have a pretty good idea of what they’re in for: some easy-tempo rock jams accented by Vile’s nonchalant voice wandering through it all as if unaware of the swells of music following it. That’s always been the formula, and based on the sound of his newest double-album, Bottle It In,
it’s not going to change any time soon.
There’s a mountain of music that comprises Bottle It In,
and the hour-plus length that Vile asks us to stick around for only seems to lengthen when us listeners start to catch on to how most of these songs operate.
Just take a look at the song “Check Baby,” which shows up in the middle of the album. It opens with a pretty delightful guitar riff over some chugging drums—no problems there. But around the halfway point of the song—which lasts almost eight minutes—it’s pretty apparent that things aren’t likely to change much from where they started. This isn’t made better by Vile’s lyrics, which begin to take on the feeling of the rambling monologue you’d hear out of a homeless man—saying a whole lot of nothing at all. You can imagine hearing “We give the devil a warm embrace and then we run like chickens from the dickens”
coming from the street corner you’re trying to quickly pass by while avoiding eye-contact with the source.
But let’s make something clear, this is one of the reasons many of us love Kurt Vile. The man’s chock-full of blissful nonsense, which makes trying to analyze his lyrics for deeper context next to impossible. Instead of filling his music with meaning, it’s almost an art to make them as absurd as he can, and that’s something to be admired in its own right.
But the problem arises when taking this record as a whole, in which the listener is subjected to song-after-song of slacker tunes that seem comfortable just staying where they are for their duration. These songs almost never seem to evolve from their outset, but instead, get pummeled into our heads for unnecessary amounts of time. Because of this, the record’s two longest songs, “Bottle It In” and “Skinny Mini,” end up being the weakest. By the time “Skinny Mini” shows up at the album’s tail-end, the task of sitting through another self-indulgent 10-minute song feels mountainous.
Listening through, the need for some sort of variance grows so strong that oddities like “Rollin With The Flow”—which takes the mood of a 60s country ballad—and somber tracks like “Mutinies” end up being the only ones that stick out from the static of Americana-tinged monotony.
Of course, the album’s singles, “Loading Zones” and “Bassackwards” are some wonderful Vile-esque jams, but they’re what we’ve come to expect from him, so there’s nothing too surprising in either.
Bottle It In
shows us that Kurt Vile has reached a point in his career where riffing over a nonchalant ditty isn’t going to sustain his listeners’ attentions any more. He’s a unique musician who’s developed a charming musical persona of indifference, but unless he starts expanding what he can bring to the table as an artist, that persona runs the risk of overstaying its welcome.