Review: Kurt Vile takes his time on ‘Bottle It In’

Kurt Vile creates a wandering and aimless atmosphere on his latest album (Jo McCaughey/Toutpartout).

On “Bassackwards,” a ten-minute single from “Bottle It In,” the twangy indie rocker Kurt Vile recalls spending time as a guest on a friend’s radio show. “There wasn’t no format because well, we like it like that,” he sings. “He was out of his mind and I was way out of mine.”

This casual and free-flowing attitude is indicative of the music on “Bottle It In” — the eighth studio album in Vile’s growing discography, counting a recent collaborative effort with his friend and contemporary Courtney Barnett. The artist takes his time throughout this new record, letting his songs unfold in a meditative fashion, often pushing far beyond the lengths of radio-friendly rock hits.

His indifference towards brevity, or even standard song structures, brings a pastoral charm to the album. Vile’s singer-songwriter sensibilities come through with reflective lyricism and folksy guitar parts. But instead of carefully crafted compositions, the artist creates a wandering and aimless atmosphere, filled with care-free, back porch fingerpicking.

But that doesn’t mean the record lacks in studio flourishes. “Bottle It In” employs a nice variety of instrumentation to pair with Vile’s melancholic guitar, whether that’s a drum machine on the track “Hysteria” or a bass-heavy synthesizer to round out the mix on “Check Baby.”

The production also works noticeably well on “Cold Was the Wind,” found towards the end of the album. The sound of a crackly vinyl record sits behind the music as obscured field recordings fashion themselves into the beat, complimenting Vile’s warbling, beachy guitar.

To craft the album, Vile recorded in various studios across the country with a handful of producers — perhaps the most notable being Peter Katis, who has worked with both the National and Interpol. This keeps the record away from any type of monotony, but at no point do things become overproduced. Vile even messes up the lyrics in the beginning of “Skinny Mini,” another one of the album’s ten-minute tracks, before starting things again from the top.

Those kinds of touches give “Bottle It In” a very personal feel, and help to showcase what’s truly at the heart of this record: Vile’s excellent songwriting. He offers up plenty of candid and introspective lyrics throughout — “Did I mention that I’m afraid of dying / Think I heard my daughter crying / So I pick her on up, spin her around, live it on up, of what I found” — which often come with their own homely, poetic quality.

The acoustic guitar on “Mutinies” is beautiful and plays out like a Red House Painters song, with a similar patience and payoff. Even on “Rollin With the Wind,” a cover of T.G. Sheppard’s 1975 country hit, Vile is able to fit in his own personality, giving the song a new life.

With only thirteen tracks to stretch out across the album’s hour and twenty minutes, “Bottle It In” can feel a little lengthy. But luckily, Kurt Vile’s music is comforting enough to make the whole thing worth hanging around for.

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