Not every item attached to an artist’s back catalog is begging to be heard. Case in point, the mundane lullaby of Kurt Vile’s Jamaica Plain EP. Though the three tracks comprising the album certainly speak of a different era in Vile’s life and guitar-playing, there’s nothing more to it than slow moving, ethereal tones set into orbit around synth effects and a modulator. It’s a good thing he advanced into more confessional territory, finally arriving at the standout Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze. Jamaica Plain acts as more of an initial comedown, showing Vile in flux as he skitters around the fretboard alongside Sore Eros.
His other, more current EP blows that timidity completely out of the water. Pay no attention to the name, but It’s a Big World Out There (and I Am Scared) is far more confident than those previous early tracks. Opening track, “Never Run Away,” puts a strings and synth spin on its predecessor, as found on Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze. The track leans more towards the experimental, à la of Montreal’s echo-soaked vocals and expansive instrumentals careening off Vile’s staccato croon. “Snowflakes are Dancing” gets a similarly elongated treatment; though, just because Vile and co. pack more into the track doesn’t mean it lags. If anything, the changes in instrumentation make both tracks feel even more alive. Vile was right to trust his instincts on both versions and “Snowflakes are Dancing” has much to offer in either incarnation.
At his current juncture, Vile overflows with inspiration. Jamaica Plain may stand as an essential album for the Kurt Vile mega-fan or collector, but it’s his latter EP that’s a true reflection of the man’s genius as a musician, standing no longer in flux behind a forklift or around unfamiliar territory. He’s a well-seasoned artist who’s been around the world and draws from his experiences accordingly. It’s almost unthinkable that in such a short span of time, Vile went from the tepid repetition of “Calling out of Work,” to the emotionally charged “Feel My Pain.” Imagine another few decades and you’ve got a true icon at play.