On first glance at Health’s new album DEATH MAGIC, my inner voice was yelling each track …
It’s been nearly three years since Kurt Vile released b’lieve i’m goin down… Despite the break, he’s managed to seem ubiquitous and relevant–partially due to the success of the album (as a single, “Pretty Pimpin’” is about all you could ever ask for), and partially due to popping up with a remarkable and understated collaboration with Courtney Barnett, Lotta Sea Lice, in 2017, to split the difference.
Vile, markedly, pursues projects with people and sounds that adhere to a clear, sonic ethos. Uncompromising instrumental lushness and a patient, lilting singing style give the impression that he could be just as at home on a porch as a stage. With October’s Bottle It In, Vile packages up a veteran’s bag of licks and lyrics and trains a long-toothed eyeball on the world.
Bottle It In isn’t so much a statement as it is an assessment. Vile’s long been known for his ability to wrangle tones from a guitar that are distinctly his, and the album finds him moving deftly between acoustic plucking–like on the title track–or the fuzzy (but subtly clean) “Check Baby.” On each track, you can feel him taking stock of his myriad musical capabilities, picking up tones, sliding them across his fingertips and moving on to the next. It’s methodical but unlabored.
The album is anchored by the lead single, “Bassackwards,” an opus of feedback clocking in at nearly ten minutes. The background of the song is the feedback from a reverbed guitar recorded and played in reverse, and it follows a repetitive lyrical structure, during which Vile ruminates on the backwards nature of the world through self-contained anecdotes. It’s not a condemnation; rather, it’s gently directed conversation–like driving at night, with the world contained between beaming headlights, and wondering why everything outside the fringed shadows gets so convoluted and complicated.
Bottle It In is musically eloquent. That is not to say indulgent, but at times Vile lets the music sprawl like a Western landscape–riffs gust through, and pointed interjections sprinkle spare surroundings. At others, he cinches it up tight, deftly directing and reining in. It never feels like he’s run out of things to say. In fact, it feels as if he could pick up mid-sentence and you’d cling to each syllable, bearing the broken pauses and settling into the space. Vile envelops. He dictates tone, pace and sentiment. Bottle It In makes a case for being the most complete work, intellectually and musically, by an artist already known for over-delivering.