Kurt Vile, “Bottle It In”

Kurt Vile
Bottle It In
MATADOR
7/10

If you’re someone who stays tuned to the indie music world, Kurt Vile has grown just short of inescapable. He’s released eight albums since his 2008 debut, most recently last year’s Lotta Sea Lice, a collaborative effort with Courtney Barnett. But despite consistent critical adoration and an increasingly recognizable name, Vile’s music is too often described in narrow, even misleading, terms. Many critics are quick to label him as stoner folk, a slacker whose songwriting is fun but lacks the sophistication of some of his other higher-profile contemporaries.

Such a characterization has never been accurate, but it reads even flimsier with the release of Bottle It In, Vile’s seventh solo album. This record is no stranger to Vile’s most unmistakable calling cards: Its running time is padded and its pace unhurried, strutting to a destination without much concern for how long it takes to get there. But there is always more than initially meets the eye with a Kurt Vile record, and this one is no exception; Vile’s funny, evocative songwriting lends the album an uncommon warmth and humanity.

Bottle It In wasn’t hammered out during consecutive studio sessions; it gelled over a period of years, with Vile recording sporadically while he was on tour and during family road trips all over the country (Los Angeles, Portland, Brooklyn). That gestation gives it a certain polish—these songs have been granted plenty of room to discover themselves. I was on the beach but I was thinking about the bay / Got to the bay but by then I was far away,” Vile sings on the sprawling, psychedelic “Bassackwards.” If it feels aimless at first, the charm of the track is revealed with subsequent listens; its persistent folk strum ripples over a backdrop of reversed guitars.

Though “Bassackwards,” with its nearly ten-minute running time, feels like a centerpiece, much of the rest of the album is equally immersive. The title track is thoughtful and disquieting, stewing in the corrosive effect of repeatedly suppressing emotions. While that particular song feels ominous, the bulk of Bottle It In is inviting, focused on personal growth and human relationships.

Though Vile is approaching his forties, and Bottle often carries a weight consistent with that maturation, there’s plenty of room for anxiety over the future. “Hysteria” is halting and conversational, but at its core feels burdened by the knowledge of Vile’s own transience. On “Cold Was the Wind,” he describes himself as being “on the plane drinking red wine because, like everyone else, I’m afraid of dying.” In fact, in a press release Vile has described the theme of this album as “that moment on the airplane…when you’re on your way somewhere and you have that burst of panic. When you’re terrified of dying, that’s when you want people to know you love them.Bottle It In is the purest expression of that tension, at once humbled by mortality and moved to love as a result.

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