Tears In A Vial
Although Kurt Vile has appeared (in some form or another) on the covers of most of his solo releases, the curiously punctuated b’lieve I’m goin’ down… is the first LP sleeve on which his face and half-smirk are plainly visible, unobscured by Vile’s hair or artsy camera angles. Like it’s supposed to indicate some sort of new directness, honesty.
The lucid “Pretty Pimpin’” seems to support this realization, the protagonist of which “woke up this morning and didn’t recognize the man in the mirror,” presumably after pushing back yards of thick, black hair. A far cry from the sun-soaked opener/title track of Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze, it’s Vile’s most unabashed, Neil Young-influenced, foot-stompin’ rambler yet, with no echoes, no noise and no vocal filter effects swirling in a cloud above the actual music this time around. So much less work is done to disguise the actual timbre of Kurt’s Voice. “I’m An Outlaw,” a tongue-in-cheek spaghetti-western swagger, features the first real banjo on a Violators record since Constant Hitmaker. Vile still leans heavily on his seemingly infinite well of droll one-liners like “Going nowhere slow” and “Young and dumb and full of / ‘Come over to my house, there’s a party goin’ on here,’” each of which paint the songwriter’s “unappreciated but wickedly funny weird guy in the corner” persona in more vivid detail. Everything from Korgs, to electric guitars, to maybe even a mandolin is woven into the collective strump-fueled dust storm. There’s even a boozy-but-somber waltz interlude, an instrumental that appears far more fleshed out than it might have on a previous outing. Everything feels a bit less skeletal than before.
By his own admission in “That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say),” Vile tends to “take pills to take the edge off / Or just take a chillax, man.” Compared to songs like the barreling, crowded “Freak Train” from Childish Prodigy or even the Smoke Ring track “Runner Ups,” the gentle swaying of “Life Like This” has swallowed a substantial does of Valium. Watching the music video in which Kurt appears alone in a dark studio befriending his various hallucinations makes you realize that if any other singer in the world took Vile’s lyrics and sang them in a more robust, assuming tone of voice, cheeky couplets like “Wanna live a life like mine? Well baby get in line,” and dubbing oneself “a certified badass out for a night on the town,” would just sound like authentic, cock-rock boasts instead of the hilariously ironic wallowing we’ve come to expect. If “Dust Bunnies” wasn’t filled with vocal slides, “Don’t know much about history” would sound like earnest, Ramones-esque obliviousness instead of a self-deprecating, post-modern joke that we’re all in on. But Vile’s left-of-center delivery has always been his bread and butter, and his sense of musicality hasn’t changed all that much, truth be told. The delicately finger-picked ballad “All in Daze” could nestle perfectly into any past Violators release, and not just because it’s his latest in a substantial list of “days/daze” puns. Vile’s singing style is reminiscent of Paul Simon in one of his less than jubilant moods, much like the 70’s FM-influenced cuts of Wakin’, like “Gold Tone” and “All Talk.” He doesn’t appear to be poking fun at us in “Stand Inside,” either, in which he dreams quite matter-of-factly about the domestic life, sitting on a couch playing guitar in a house with a woman he can call his own.
Critics have always loved Kurt Vile. Always. He’s been topping year end lists since he first ventured off on his own into the world of music. He’s been a festival darling for the entirety of his career. After four lauded full-lengths in a row without losing his cool, his status in contemporary alternative music and culture is approaching that of unassailable. This review will concur with herds of other witless sheep that call b’lieve i’m goin’ down… the perfect fall record in the same way that Pretty Daze was the soundtrack of Summer 2013, and assert that b’lieve is the clearest statement of Vile’s modest but grand artistic vision. But only because it is. Baa.