Kurt Vile has been crafting lo-fi delights for a while, but his delve into psychedelia in his 2013 album Wakin on a Pretty Daze was an excellent change of pace for the then 33-year-old singer-songwriter.
So now, with his seventh solo venture Bottle It In, does his now trademark twinge of psychedelic folk-rock still excite? For the most part, yes. Vile’s intro song “Loading Zones” is perfect in every way. With a gnarled talk box segueing into jangly guitars mixed with Vile’s gorgeous folksy singing, the song does not disappoint. The use of background choruses is very enjoyable, and everything is expertly layered in throughout.
And from there on out, the album is wholly inconsistent, having either mediocre or uninteresting songs or outright masterpieces, and seemingly no other alternative. To clarify, I would say that every song on Bottle It In is good. However, the songs that are great have to be sought out, which is not a good thing. Immediately following “Loading Zones” is the meandering and monotonous “Hysteria” and the underwhelming “Yeah Bones,” but then Vile hits absolute gold.
Three songs in a row are absolutely sublime: “Bassackwards,” “One Trick Ponies” and a cover of T.G. Sheppard’s “Rollin’ with the Flow.” Each song builds off of the last to deliver a serene and almost Daoist calm to the listener. But then, it’s back into the average. The song “Check Baby” egregiously loses its funky distorted bassline that it begins with twenty seconds in.
Why? Why lose something unique that also feels appropriate like that? The aforementioned bassline is the only thing that kept me interested as I patiently listened to the song hoping it would return. Something especially heartbreaking about this album is that its title track isn’t very memorable or good. It is experimental and creative, but it lacks anything that could make it more than that. Then the song “Mutinies” arrives with little excitement to be had. Thankfully, “Come Again” arrives to remind us of the talents Vile has.
I think the reason I adore “Come Again” so much is how dense it is musically. All the elements come together beautifully. From the banjo to the twinkling guitars and harsh noise halfway through, everything balances out. “Cold Was the Wind” is another break from the glory that Vile is capable of offering, but thankfully the last eleven minutes of this LP save the listener from that rank and boring sound. “Skinny Mini” and “(Bottle Back)” bridge together such an extensive set of ideas and sounds that they flourish between the listener’s ears like a flower pluming out of the ground. An excellent electronic end to an album that both electrifies and stupefies.
Overall, this record is very enjoyable, even though much of the second half of the record feels particularly self-indulgent, with two ten-minute-long folk ballads that add little to the overall album experience. “Bassackwards” is the only song on the album that I felt warranted its length. There is a lot of raw emotion to cover through that song and it explores them with great ferocity. Still, the songs that are great are amazing and well worth a listen. If you still love that rock and roll, join Mr. Vile and keep on rollin’ with the flow.