KuRT VILE - B'LIEVE I'M GOIN DOWN
Released September 25, 2015
By Joe Gibson
If Jerry Garcia had grown up listening to Lou Reed and 90's alt-rock, he may have sounded a little like Kurt Vile. That's not to say that Kurt shares any of Jerry's mind-bending technical prowess on the guitar (though he is perfectly adequate in the context of his songs), but they both put forward a lovable-lazy-hazy sound that evokes an age when artists could get by on vibes rather than chart success. Kurt's approach is mellow, but it does have some edginess. On b'lieve i'm going down, Mr. Vile's sixth album, you can hear the Lou Reed influence on his voice more than ever. You can hear the drone-like broken guitar chords a la Nirvana or REM. At 35, the baby-faced Vile still reminds you of your stoned-out friend in high school who sat at the back of the class listening to mix tapes of Neil Young through a beat up walkman, but on this release the 'childish prodigy' has delivered some damn good songs.
The album's first and best track, Pretty Pimpin, is classic Vile. It's catchy, it's about himself, he sounds half awake, but never has he sounded so accessible or memorable. The track has subtle harmonies, layers of Petty-esque twangy guitars, and even some shades of synthesizers near the end. It's with out a doubt the poppiest thing he's done. Vile wraps the whole thing up with a winking, alliterative title, as if to soften the darker lyrical content. Maybe Vile want us to feel that, however serious or mature he seems, he's still got that same old dream-fried smile on his face.
On I'm an Outlaw,Vile celebrates 60's and 70's LA country rock. No, I'm not talking about that slick Eagles sound. This is late Byrds territory. Vile has some prophetic reverb on his voice a la Roger McGuinn on Lover of the Bayou. Hell, Vile even name drops Clarence White (lead guitarist of the later incarnation of the Byrds) on the track. Another winner.
There's a late night atmosphere running through a lot of the album. On That's Life, tho (almost hate to say), Vile sounds like a millennial version of Leonard Cohen coming down hard after a night of pills and powder; but somehow he seems wiser from the experience.
Life Like This is another poppy track and a showcase for Vile's great sense of rhythm and flow (it also has a really cool sounding guitar solo, guaranteed to get you nodding your head in approval). It's one of those tracks that doesn't really have a chorus – it's repetitive, yet still catchy and memorable.
This is also his best album, lyrically. Vile is slowly becoming this generation's Zappa or Jonathan Richman. When you aren't tapping your foot or swaying side to side, you notice how much sharper his humour has become. The album is full of puns, profound in their simplicity (All In A Daze Work), as well as casually hilarious observations (“Ain't it oh-exciting, the way one can fake their way through life/ But that's neither here or there/ In a way how could one ever prove you're just putting them all on”).
When I first heard Vile 4 or 5 years ago, I thought he was over-hyped. When I saw him perform on tour right after he released Waking on a Pretty Daze, I was underwhelmed. Admittedly, I hadn't really dug into his discography at that point. I walked away from his show with maybe a few songs in my head, but mostly with the feeling of boredom. His tunes just seemed to float by without much notice. I've since discovered that there is much more to Mr. Vile, not to mention a lot of charm in his mellower than thou approach. His songs deserve a close listen in an intimate setting (I saw him in a big theatre full of drunk animals, so it's no wonder his sound didn't translate so well that night. The Dead didn't always have great nights, and sometimes the audience just doesn't jive with the vibes that are coming from the stage).
On b'lieve i'm going down, Vile has offered up his best batch of tunes yet. It's also his best sounding album. The guitars, drums, piano and special effects have never been so expansive or layered so richly (the instrumental Bad Omens is by no means a great Kurt Vile song, but boy does it ever sound great!). Vile and his backing band, The Violators, have given us their best arrangements so far. This is a rock record in an age where no one really makes rock records. For that, he is either a fool or a genius. He's in his own world where it's perpetually 1972, but with the added technology of 2015.
I really hope I can see him perform live again. Maybe I just had a fluke experience when I saw him. Or maybe I just like how he sounds through headphones better.