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Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Kurt Vile has a knack for making music you can get lost in. It’s a quality that’s been there since his first album back in 2008, Constant Hitmaker, but he’s just got better at it over time. Now eight albums deep into his career, he’s pretty much perfected it. Bottle It In is the sort of album you can just fall into – like a hazy, reverb-y bath.

Nowhere is this more clear than the song ‘Bassackwards’, perhaps the lushest, most atmospheric track he’s put out. For a ten minute song, it doesn’t progress a whole lot, circling around the chords and swirling electronics for most of its runtime, but it doesn’t need to. It paints a distinct mood – like being half-caught in a daydream – that Vile’s lyrics only emphasis: ‘I was on the beach, but I was thinking about the bay’. Like many of his best songs (think ‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’) it just feels effortless, like it was improvised on the spot, despite the amount of work that obviously went into it.

The song encapsulates Bottle It In as a whole pretty well. Vile takes his time to get where he’s going on the album (and most of the time it doesn’t sound like he knows where he’s going), taking just about every detour he can along the way. For any other artist, this would be a criticism. Bottle It In is a hefty album, clocking in at just under 80 minutes, but it just about works. It’s his most ambitious release, dipping into more styles and moods than any of his past albums. There are short-and-punchy rockers, drone-y ten-minute epics and just about everything in between on here. In many ways, it feels like a cumulation of the seven albums that came before it.

There’s plenty of classic Vile on here such as opener ‘Loading Zones’, which – of all things – is about trying to get free parking. It’s the catchiest track he’s dropped since ‘Pretty Pimpin’ and I particularly love the ‘I park for free’ chants that close out the track. ‘One Trick Ponies’ is a sweet and goofy self-referential song (‘Some are one trick ponies but so am I’) that features some of the album’s strongest lyrics. It’s schmaltzy, but Vile’s vocals sell it. Also great are ‘Yeah Bones’, which features a propulsive rhythm and a great hook, and ‘Check Baby’, a fantastically drawn-out rocker. The song fades out around the eight-minute mark, but there’s the sense it could roll along on its riff forever.

There’s a palpable shift in mood on the album at the halfway point with the 11-minute title track. Along with the equally long closer (‘Skinny Mini’), it’s likely to go down as one Bottle It In’s most divisive tracks. The instrumentation has an almost skeletal feel to it and the lyrics are some of the moodiest, most introspective ones Vile has penned: ‘Don’t tell them that you love them, for your own sake’. The tracks the follow on from it carry its mood. While Vile’s quirks still shine through on the second half of the album, it does have a more melancholy atmosphere overall.

On ‘Mutinies’, he mumbles over a particularly downbeat guitar loop, coming out with some of his most personal lyrics: ‘The mutinies in my head keep staying, I take pills and pills to make them go away’. ‘Come Again’ and ‘Cold Was The Wild’ carry a similarly melancholy feel; the latter in particular is an album standout, featuring some new instrumental twists. The song sounds like it was designed to soundtrack an old-school horror movie, featuring cawing sound effects, background static and some ominous bass guitar slides. It borders on uncomfortable at times.

Out of all the albums Kurt Vile has released, Bottle It In is the most difficult to untangle. Yet, it also feels like his best. It’s a versatile release, featuring tracks that explore sounds that Vile has more-or-less mastered at this stage (‘Bassackwards’) and others that push him into new territory (‘Cold Was The Wind’). It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.

Best Tracks: ‘Bassackwards’, ‘One Trick Ponies’, ‘Skinny Mini’

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Roosevelt – Young Romance

You can discover some fantastic bands by turning up for the support acts at gigs. While I’m guilty of skipping them more often than not these days, I’ve found plenty of favourites through showing up early, such as Vacations, Money and – as you can probably guess from this review’s title – Roosevelt. The project of Marius Lauber, Roosevelt constructions slick, danceable synth-pop. After catching him as the support for Glass Animals a couple years back, I quickly jumped on his debut Roosevelt, which was just as good as the live show promised. The album doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before, but what it sets out to do it does incredibly well. The songs are fun with big hooks and feature just enough variation between them for things to stay interesting.

Two years later and we now have Young Romance. The album covers a lot of the same ground as Roosevelt, continuing to blend disco and house with an old school tinge. The mood of the album is somewhat different though. Roosevelt felt like one long night out with friends at the club, whereas Young Romance is more tinged nostalgia and a longing for the past. The brief opener ‘Take Me Back’ comes across as the album’s mission statement; the title can be read in two ways, both as the protagonist’s desire to return to an old relationship (a common lyrical theme throughout the album) and Roosevelt’s interest in the sounds of the past.

‘Take Me Back’ quickly leads on to ‘Under The Sun’, one of the album’s strongest cuts. Though its chorus doesn’t make much sense (‘Tonight I’ll show you everything under the sun’), it doesn’t really have to; the song is catchy, fun and summery, and honestly, that’s all it needs to be. Lyrics have never been Roosevelt’s strong suit, and the ones on Young Romance aim to be broad and relatable. They’re angsty, teenager-ish and a little overblown, as you’d expect given the album’s title. ‘Shadows’ is about being unable to forget a past lover (‘The shadows of our love’), ‘Yr Love’ rekindling an old romance (‘Bring your love back to be’) and ‘Getaway’ trying to run away from the world with a partner (‘We can get away tonight’). Like I said, big and broad. But they mostly work.

The album isn’t as routinely consistent as Roosevelt, nor does it flow as well, but there are some strong tracks on here. Songs like ‘Shadows’ and ‘Losing Touch’ can stand toe-to-toe with Roosevelt’s best songs, featuring killer basslines, thumping drums and the aforementioned catchy hooks. Young Romance doesn’t quite do enough to justify its 50-minute runtime though and there are a few clunkers around the middle (such as ‘Better Days’) that drag things out a bit. The album would have benefitted from having a couple of tracks cut from it, making things just that little bit leaner.

Young Romance is ultimately a fun but middling release. It’s not the sort of album that survives being picked apart too much and works best when you just chuck it on in the background. If you like your indie pop with a thick retro coating, then it’s worth checking out.

Best Tracks: ‘Under The Sun’, ‘Losing Touch’, ‘Shadows’.

Interpol – Marauder

Like so many bands from the early 2000s post-punk revival (think The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party), Interpol have been struggling to remain relevant for a while. The band’s last truly great album – their sophomore effort Antics – was released all the way back in 2004, and since then we’ve received three albums of middling quality. Our Love To Admire felt muddled and unfocused despite some highlights, Interpol was a bit of a depressive slog and El Pintor a retread of past glories.

Unfortunately, the band’s latest effort Marauder isn’t the return to form fans have been waiting for. While Interpol do branch out in new directions on some songs, with the disco stomp of ‘Surveillance’ and the humming electronics on ‘NYSMAW’, it suffers from the same major fault as El Pintor: the band play it too safe. Mostly, it’s just Interpol-by-the-numbers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re a big fan of the band, and songs like ‘If You Really Love Nothing’ and ‘Number 10’ are sure to fit pretty snuggly among Interpol classics in their live shows. But nothing here comes close to hitting the same heights as Turn On The Bright Lights or Antics… Heck, not even El Pintor. Lead single ‘The Rover’ is probably the best of the lot, featuring a propulsive, rollicking rhythm and some characteristically kooky lyrics about the cult leader. The song isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s a lot of fun.

‘If You Really Love Nothing’ is similarly strong, featuring some of the album’s strongest lyrics and some haunting, floating vocals from Paul Banks. I’m also a fan of ‘Mountain Child’, which builds up nicely. Starting out with a lone guitar line, the track picks up more and more energy the further it goes along, eventually finishing out with a great climax. ‘It Probably Matters’ acts as a serviceable closer, featuring some nice reflective lyrics.

However, I’d be lying if I said the album didn’t falter in a few places. Many of the songs on the Marauder feel overly repetitive (even the ones I’m a fan of), circling around the same chords for a few minutes before the ending. They feel like they’re missing a sense of progression or propulsion (‘Mountain Child’ being one of the few exceptions). Because of this, the album starts the blend together a little halfway through, with everything becoming a little too samey. The two interludes attempt to break things up, but neither add anything substantial to the album.

Marauder just seems to lack any strong sense of identity. It’s unlikely to be anyone’s least favourite Interpol album, sure, but it’s even more unlikely to be anyone’s favourite. If you’re a fan of the band, it’s worth a couple listens, but there’s nothing here that they haven’t done better on past releases.

Best Tracks: ‘The Rover’, ‘Mountain Child’, ‘Number 10’.