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’