How Kurt Vile Unleashed His Muse On His Forthcoming Album, ‘Bottle It In’

Cultural Critic
09.19.18

Jo McCaughey

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The thing that people always seem to get wrong about Kurt Vile — even now that he’s a legacy artist about to put out his seventh album — is identifying him as a slacker. Pull up any interview or review from the past 10 years and the “s-word” will usually emerge lazily from a cloud of pot smoke. But the lanky and longhaired 38-year-old Philadelphian, for all of his externalized chill, is the opposite of a layabout. In fact, he never seems to stop working.

On October 12, Vile will release Bottle It In, his first solo record in three years. Though it comes almost exactly one year after Lotta Sea Lice, his winningly casual collaborative LP with fellow frequently mislabeled slacker Courtney Barnett. Vile recorded Bottle It In whenever he had breaks from tours and other professional obligations. Actually, it’s kind of difficult to chart the album’s gestation period, as Vile was also busy working on several other, as-yet-unreleased projects. He says there’s a whole other album’s worth of material still in the can. And there’s an EP recorded in Nashville that’s the purest expression yet of Vile’s long-held love of country music. Apparently, Kurt even did some sessions with Dean Ween earlier this year that have yet to see the light of day.

For Vile, Bottle It In marks a return of sorts to his pre-indie fame days in the ’00s, when he was just an eccentric singer-songwriter obsessively recording conversational, tragicomic psych-folk songs and distributing them by hand around Philly via homemade CD-Rs. Unlike the self-conscious sprawl of 2015’s b’lieve i’m goin down, which Vile spent nearly two years shaping during tequila-soaked sessions in various cities, Bottle It In is the product of an unstructured creative explosion that wasn’t necessarily directed at any single release. The idea was to follow his muse wherever it took him, and then cherrypick the songs that best fit together from a growing stockpile of material.

“My friend Mary Lattimore, who plays harp — she’s from Philly, she plays on Bottle It In, on the title track, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard her do — she would say things like, ‘So, is this the last session for the album?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t record like that,'” Vile tells me during a recent phone call, breaking up his meandering anecdote with asides tossed off like winding guitar solos. “I just know I go in and out of studios, and somewhere in there is the record.”

The result is an album that feels like a compendium of Vile’s career up to this point, with compact, airy guitar jams like “Loading Zones” and “Yeah Bones” sharing space alongside the lysergic Americana of “Come Again,” the stoner rock of “Check Baby,” a surprisingly faithful cover of Charlie Rich’s ’70s pop-country favorite “Rollin’ With The Flow,” and several long, hypnotic songs that stretch towards the 10-minute mark. The best of these numbers, “Bassackwards,” spotlights Vile’s indelible mix of loopy humor and deep melancholy, floating through a series of dream-like scenarios in which the protagonist can’t quite get a grip on his raging wanderlust.

“I was on the beach but / I was thinking about the bay / got to the bay but / by then I was far away,” Vile drawls over a draggy, hypnotic beat and backward-recorded guitar blips. “I was on the ground but / looking straight into the sun / but the sun went down.”

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