This Kurt Vile article was written by Ailsa McEwan, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Sam Forsdick
Kurt Vile’s last studio album found him in a very happy place indeed; contented with family life and his newfound status of rock icon, it seemed like he finally had it all. But the Philadelphia based rocker’s latest release is a million miles away from the sunny, carefree languor of 2013’s critically acclaimed ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’. The record is brimming with tales of self alienation which would imply a more somber, introspective album however Vile’s trademark wit remains prevalent throughout. ‘b’lieve i’m goin down’ paints the picture of a certified badass roaming the desert in the haze of an existential crisis.
“I woke up this morning, didn’t recognise the man in the mirror” he drawls on opener ‘Pretty Pimpin’ before exclaiming “Oh silly me, that’s just me”. Self doubt, isolation and confusion surrounding one’s identity are recurrent themes on the album. Vile finds himself flitting between self assurance and uncertainty but this inner conflict is almost always accompanied by a wry humour – although he doesn’t recognise the stranger in the mirror he sure looks “pretty pimpin”. Even in the midst of an identity crisis the playful, goofy side of Vile that we have grown to love is very much present.
The musical formula of ‘b’lieve’ is very much consistent with Vile’s previous work, the signature fingerpicked guitar, lethargic vocal delivery and introspective lyricism all remain, but there is a new melancholy to Vile’s sound. In regards to instrumentation, ‘b’lieve’ is his most varied album yet; the twangs of a homemade banjo feature on ‘I’m an Outlaw’, whilst the psychedelia-tinged ‘Life Like This’ revolves around the foundation of arpeggiated piano chords.
Although the stripped back and downbeat nature of many of the songs mean they would fit comfortably alongside 2011’s ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, Vile’s increasingly reflective and observational lyricism set ‘b’lieve’ apart from any of his previous work. “Aint it oh exciting the way one can fake their way through life” he sings over the Nick Drake-esque guitar of ‘That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)’. But Vile himself is most certainly not faking his way through – there is an honesty in his music that very few possess. ‘b’lieve’ is his most revealing work yet and this becomes increasingly evident after every listen. He may be a dreamer but he is one of the most down-to-earth writers around today.
Vile later remarks, “The laws of physics have shown that a man must walk through life via peaks and valleys” – perhaps the most relevant and profound lyric of the album, a metaphor for the emotional highs and lows of life. If ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’ was the peak, ‘b’lieve i’m goin down’ is one of the many valleys he must pass through. Kurt Vile is searching for something, himself perhaps, and this album is a pivotal part of the journey.
‘b’lieve i’m goin down’ is out now via Matador Records