by Juliana Van Amsterdam
There comes a time in every aging rocker’s life where they produce a highly personal mid-life contemplation, and the time for Kurt Vile is now. Now approaching 40, the multi-talented musician turns even more reflective on his latest release, Bottle It In. Having established himself firmly in the surfer-dad-rock genre, Vile has begun to stretch his boundaries, dipping his toes into keyboard synth and playing with tempo. His lyrics, however, rarely stray from highly ruminative topics such as the wear and tear of tour life, his fear of flying, and a sense of encroaching loneliness and general malaise. As ever, Vile presents his thoughts in a highly informal manner, using hypnotically repetitive instrumentals as a pedestal for his layman lyrics.
While Bottle It In runs the risk of blending into one long, weird monologue, there are tracks that are worth a return visit. The album opens with ‘Loading Zone,’ a classic Kurt Vile track that genially rolls along. ‘Hysteria’ evokes twanging, Lord Huron-esque instrumentals while Vile’s signature drawl croons a whimsical love letter. ‘Bassackwards’ introduces a new instrumental approach, pairing Vile’s acoustic guitar with sliding synth melodies. The result is an atmospheric track grounded by Vile’s familiar vocal patterns, and the lyrics displaya sense of regret about his frequent absences from his loved ones. ‘One Trick Ponies’ provides some exceptional background vocals, a feature Vile does not often utilize, adding a whole new dimension to his normal songwriting technique. ‘Rollin With The Flow’ provides some strong America vibes, a welcome stylistic change that evokes some of Vile’s old inspirations. ‘Mutinies’ is a darker track, hammering home Vile’s insecurities in a beautiful, slow-burn rotation.
Of Vile’s many albums, Bottle It In is especially pedestrian, presented as one long conversation with his listeners. He is in no hurry to get his message out, choosing instead to sonically experiment between meandering verses about life, love, and death. While Vile typically delivers music that is lackadaisical and darkly clever, this album seems to touch a bit deeper, as if his happy-go-lucky façade has begun to crack. Bottle It In requires a feat of near herculean patience, but it’s worth listening to his whole spiel at least once. The album may not feature repeat listenability, but it has a way of sticking to your brain long after the final notes of ‘(bottle back)’ fade. Maybe it’s because of Vile’s established musical prowess, or maybe it’s because he has a knack for spinning hyper-realistic verses that are so universally acceptable. That’s something for you and him to decide together.