The blurb that accompanies Kurt Vile’s first solo record in two years waxes lyrical about the themes of journeys, destinations and new discoveries. To be honest, the only new discovery made listening to the nearly eighty minutes of music presented on this record is how a clutch of relatively simple songs can be stretched to breaking point by a man with a serious case of wanderlust.
You know what you’re going to get with Kurt Vile – circuitous and eclectic guitar figures with stoner lyrics delivered in his half asleep Pennsylvanian drawl. Although we are on broadly familiar territory here, many of the trademark motifs that have stood him in good stead are eschewed for sprawling, unfocused jams that ultimately end up on a road to nowhere.
We kick off the musical marathon with Loading Zones, an identikit of any number of War On Drugs songs which you could forgive due to the proximity of Vile and his former band. However, it’s soon apparent that this is merely the “dram before the meat”and the real dish is one of overcooked, rehearsal room leftovers. Bones is effectively a direct rehash of Amplifier from 2009’s Childish Prodigy that’s not a patch on the original and Rolling With The Flow sounds like something that was rejected for The Littlest Hobo theme tune.
This all seems an awfully long way from Lotta Sea Lice – 2017’s critically acclaimed team up with Courtney Barnett. On this evidence, Kurt Vile could’ve used a responsible adult to snatch away the doobie and get shit done. And yet, there is a range of talent accompanying him on this album that may have made a difference had they been used effectively. Kim Gordon, Lucius and Cass McCombs all feature, although you’d be hard pushed to recognise their input with such an unstructured approach to the compositions.
The running time of some of the tracks is eye watering. Bassackwards (9:46) is akin to something you and your mates reckon sounds brilliant after a heavy smoke session. Check Baby (7:54) is the bloated tale of a soundcheck that could’ve been written as a lament to the road crew. What’s next? An eighteen minute prog rock epic about clearing out the fridge? Vile seems to struggle to think lyrically other than what’s he’s looking directly at. There’s certainly a loose wire somewhere.
Although the title track Bottle It In makes a genuine attempt at building atmosphere with a glistening harp plucked over a brooding, bass laden rhythm, it loses any accumulated potency by the end of its ten minute duration. It’s so frustrating because Mutinies, one of the few triumphs on the album, is classic Kurt Vile – a sumptuously sweet lullaby with a gorgeous feedback loop. Come Again also succeeds by adeptly weaving a fascinating banjo jangle and stuttering vocal.
The trouble is, anything that does make sense is either stifled or forgotten in the fug by the time you get to Skinny Mini. Possibly an exercise in performance art, it parrots a four note riff amid a rambling spoken word that doesn’t shift for (count them) eleven interminable minutes – apart from being punched awake by an arbitrarily loud guitar solo at its arse end. If this is Vile “Bottling It In”, you’d run the proverbial country mile from his more garrulous episodes.
It’s easy to imagine Kurt Vile as some big, dopey bloodhound lolloping towards you with a mouthful of kooky tunes and goofball prose but with this he gets bored and gives up before his paws are even off the front porch.
Best to pour this bottle down the sink and reach for the painkillers.