The late great Tom Petty was a believer in the authentic artist, famously telling Esquire magazine that “if you're phony, they will feel it in the farthest row of the arena. You have to really care.” Kurt Vile is an artist who certainly adheres to this rule; upon first listen of his lavish and dreamy recent release Bottle It In, it is evident how much he cares for his craft.
It is perhaps a rare and beautiful thing to retain one’s authenticity, particularly in the cutthroat music industry where it is perhaps tempting to adapt your art to become “chart-friendly” and sell records. While Vile is not totally original - his music is undeniably heavily inspired by Petty and Neil Young - he is totally genuine. He does not compromise at all on his sound, never watering down his blend of folk, rock and lo-fi to fit within the ‘guidelines’ of making a record. The album itself is an hour and twenty minutes long, not typical at all of a thirteen track record. And with tracks like Bassackwards and Skinny Mini pushing ten minutes apiece, it is clear Vile is a man who plays by his own rules, making his music not to be accessible to all but more for his sheer adoration of it. While not without its imperfections, it’s a leisurely, psychedelic album that’s easy to get lost in, and an absolute pleasure to listen to. Despite Bottle It In being the ex-War On Drugs guitarist’s eighth studio album, it’s still evident he’s a master at what he does and he isn’t slowing down any time soon. There really is life in the old dog yet.
None of the tracks on Bottle It In are particularly catchy or radio friendly, unlike the tracks on this album’s predecessor Lotta Sea Lice, the critically acclaimed collaboration with fellow folk artist Courtney Barnett. Some of the tracks are slow, chorusless, and perhaps slightly forgettable. But in all honesty, that’s the beauty of this album. It’s the relaxing kind of album one would have as a go-to soundtrack to a road trip; the sun setting as you drift into your thoughts (likely due to the stunning guitar solo on Loading Zones!) And it’s hard not to slip into your subconscious, as Vile’s lyrics are a stream of consciousness, evocative of Bob Dylan.
He tells stories of his country roots and hometown with humour and whimsy; Loading Zones inspires a feeling of nostalgia in the listener for a place they’ve never even visited, and One Trick Ponies is a particular highlight of the record also. However, there is the odd track that keeps you on your toes and wakes you from the tranquil of the others - like Yeah Bones, more of an indie rock song compared to the more folky blues stuff Vile is going for. Come Again has an interesting banjo hook that makes it a track that simply demands to be played over and over again. The inspiration he draws from other artists is clear in his stellar cover of the Charlie Rich hit Rollin’ With The Flow, as well as within the various artist cameos dotted across the tracks even from the likes of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.
While Vile’s choice of releasing Bassackwards and Loading Zones as Bottle It In’s singles was likely a wise one as they are the ‘safest’ and most accessible of the album, perhaps Mutinies, an ode to the discontent social media and technology can bring to our lives, would have been a strong choice. Slightly haunting, melancholy yet not quite depressing, Mutinies is a firm favourite from the album; it is, frankly, thoughtful and beautiful.
Bottle It In is undoubtedly worth a spin. It’s a powerhouse of a record all things considered, and yet it is by no means Vile’s best body of work. When such a strong album is seen as mediocre compared to other records by an artist, that speaks volumes on how skilled an artist they truly are. Vile is fusing together the blues and rock and roll with a lo-fi Dope Lemon-esque undercurrent and, honestly, it works. He is the revival of a long missed and adored sound, and the charts absolutely need a champion of better times and better music. Vile’s got something incredibly special - here’s hoping he keeps injecting that spark and authenticity into everything he does.