For nearly fifteen years and after a countless number of albums as a solo artist and with The War on Drugs (which he founded in 2003 but then departed in 2008 to focus on his solo career), Kurt Vile has emerged as one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation. However, his unassuming and even shy demeanor has made him one of music’s unheralded artists yet one of its most reluctant stars. And for all the brilliance he’s shown throughout his career, the 35-year old Philadelphia resident continues to grow as a musician, a reflection of maturation and of life as a family man.
Vile’s latest album, b’lieve i’m goin down, demonstrates the changes in Vile’s life. While he’s always been extremely observant of the day-to-day events around him and has shared his innermost and sometimes dark feelings, Vile is more introspective and reflective on b’lieve i’m goin down, poking fun at himself at times and describing the missteps he took, such as on the “Kidding Around” and the innocence and naivete of his youth on the Dylan-esque “Wild Imagination”. The opening track, “Pretty Pimpin”, has a Modest Mouse feel that has Vile singing about a person taking a hard look at himself and what he has become. The tracks could be interpreted as lessons Vile will one day share with his children.
The further growth of Vile is depicted on “I’m an Outlaw” – where Vile picks up the banjo to create arguably the album’s high point with this stunning, southern, folk-rocker. Vile’s outlaw elicits images of Clint Eastwood’s Josey Wales – or the late-night, drunken memories highlighted on the entertaining and superb “Dust Bunnies”. Vile is also at his most sullen yet humorous with “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)”, where he reflects on his own vulnerability reflecting on great people who have come, citing the Bible, and a reference to pop culture. Vile referencing numerous things has contributed to the track containing the album’s most memorable line, “State Puff was on top of the world and then he fell all the way back down naturally.”
Vile also reaches into a new bag of tricks. “Life Like This”, has the vibe of The Verve – from the piano-driven melodies and Vile’s vocal style taking on the wordplay that Richard Ashcroft often favored. “Lost My Head” sees Vile abandon the reverb in favor of a 70s-esque, jazz-infused, pop tune. It’s completely unexpected, yet the catchy, groovy tune perfectly complements Vile’s lyrics of confusion and astonishment. It’s a track that My Morning Jacket has experimented with recently and even Vile channels Jim James with the “woots” in the second half of the track.
While b’lieve i’m goin down may be Vile’s more introspective album, it is also his more expansive without losing the qualities that have endeared to many of fans around the world. His songwriting is stronger and his storytelling shines through on a number of tracks. Although at times the songs can be heavy and deep, Vile cuts through the density with humor. Here’s an artist at the top of his game, who has once again put together a thoughtful, stunning album that is among the best of the year.
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