It’s been a wee while now since Kurt Vile was guitarist for The War on Drugs, leaving behind the more downbeat, reflective side of his personality and embracing the positive. His solo records, with the Violators, are pretty unmistakable. As soon as that thick as pea soup accent begins, with its drawl so slow that you can taste the fried chicken (despite hailing from Philadelphia), it’s a Kurt Vile record.
Except on this, his seventh record, Bottle It In suggests that he is on the verge of spilling his guts, taking the lead from those ridding the world of its mask of masculinity, but he’s not quite ready to tell all. Instead ‘Loading Zones‘ kicks everything off by continuing his devil may care, life in a fog of marijuana smoke attitude and he is parking his ride anywhere he chooses.
He seems to be taking up where he left off with Courtney Barnett and going for the semi autobiographical with elongated endings, guitar riffs and solos aplenty as some of the songs, including the title track, are 10 minutes long. Here there is a looping harp line that continues throughout to the point where your fingers are starting to ache for them. There’s a repetitive lyric “Don’t tell them that you love them, for your own sake, you better bottle it in. Cause you never know when your heart is gonna break, and that’s a chance we just can’t take” which in itself is pretty heartbreaking.
It certainly displays a different side to the goofy grin in the videos.
Described as being recorded across the U.S during touring, there is a definite feel of the vast expanses of nothingness as he travels from city to city, evoking an image of Kurt in the back of the bus playing the same riff over and over as he watches the landscape go by, a never ending mountain range, desert, forest as he plays and plays and plays. Never more so than on Skinny Mini‘. It’s as if he cannot stop himself.
‘Check Baby‘ plays out like he wrote a killer riff and recorded it late at night on to his phone and then he found it and put whatever lyrics that came into his head as they recorded live in the studio. A large proportion of the lyrics on this record feel off-the-cuff and spontaneous observations.
At about 80 minutes long, it’s a sprawling album, but in the main it doesn’t drag. He begins to dip his toe into something more experimental, ‘Loading Bay‘ begins with a distorted almost gargle that probably came from a synthesised sample. On ‘Check Baby‘ there’s an underlying over-driven bass that rattles the windows, frames, dentures and nuts and bolts of your car that somehow rumbles on throughout without grating. ‘Mutinies‘ has an electronic shuffling effect that sounds part broom, part steam train. There’s a looped percussion or rhythm on many of the tracks that most would use as an aid to writing but Vile keeps it going allowing the songs to keep on and on, down the long, long track of his concentration, concept or consciousness. On ‘Come Again‘ it’s a repetitive banjo riff that coupled with the snare and bass drum creates the sound of movement, pistons and steam driving this record forward.
The pace is unnecessarily interrupted by a cover of Charlie Rich’s ‘Rollin with the Flow‘ which is a very standard country song even with the Kurt Vile stamp all over it. Pleasant enough but considering there is so much to take in already it almost detracts from what he’s trying to achieve.
Trying to take apart the lyrics and story behind this album is a little pointless as so often it feels like a stream of consciousness rather than a fully thought out opening of his soul and mind. Not to detract from what he’s saying but it makes as much sense to let it all wash over you with the substance of your choice. Tea works just as well as anything else. Your seventh cup of coffee, your tenth bottle of beer, that late night whiskey or bourbon.
Disconnect your brain, ignore the world outside, pretend time doesn’t exist. Stick the needle on. Let it all hang out. Aww ssscchiiiit.
Bottle It in is out now on Matador.