At this point, Kurt Vile is a known entity. He has put out four albums with the help from his regular backing band, the Violators. Vile’s fifth studio album, b’lieve i’m going down, is slated for a late September release, and it’s unsurprisingly excellent.
However, b’lieve‘s content is mildly surprising in places–especially considering Vile’s recent trajectory.
His last release, 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze was a wonderful, warm slice of meandering dad rock, which is fitful, because several songs, including one of my favorites of ’13, meditated upon fatherhood.
However, Wakin… was slightly more shambolic and zonked out than usual, and as much as I enjoyed it, a concern that future endeavors might be too mellow crept into the back of my mind.
Vile doesn’t necessarily tear the roof off, but opening track, “Pretty Pimpin” is a fairly immediate alert things are going to be different. The song approaches something resembling a stomping rhythm and builds steam as it progresses. It’s also a funny depiction of difficulty identifying self, which is a departure from Wakin‘s gentle self-assurance. Oh, and, of course, there’s gratuitous use of the word pimping as an adjective.
The next track, “I’m an Outlaw” continues the change of pace. It’s a twangy country tune complete with banjo. Repetitious, rhythmic twang and a drum beat probably haven’t existed in as much harmony since Beck’s earliest glories.
“Dust Bunnies” is a laid-back lamentation from an aging rocker, who bemoans the mild nature of an increasingly domestic life, while still preferring playing homemaker to an early drug-fueled death. Fitting the retrospective rock theme, Vile seamlessly slips in a fun paradoxical reference to The Band and Sam Cooke “Don’t know much about history/Don’t know much about the shape I’m in.”
The next four songs are all much more typical of Vile, which is to say, they’re excellent, gentle folk-rock-country hybrids, but as the album winds down some wrinkles creep back in.
“Lost My Head There” and the instrumental”Bad Omens” both feature enjoyable interplay between piano, simmering guitar drone and spacy sound effects. “Kidding Around” actually ends with some electronic bloops.
However, album-closer “Wild Imagination” is a prototypical Kurt Vile song. It’s nearly six-minutes long, it’s very pleasant, and the lyrics are a bit goofy, while capturing a perfectly ordinary moment, “I’m looking at you, but it’s only a picture, so I take that back, but it ain’t really a picture, it’s just an image on a screen/you can imagine if I was though, right?/Just like I can imagine you can imagine it, can’t ya?/I got a wild imagination.”
b’lieve i’m goin down doesn’t totally deviate from what one expects from a Kurt Vile record, but it does explore some fun relatively novel terrain in addition to expertly traveling old ground. Plus, at this point, people expect Kurt Vile records to be pretty darn good, and b’lieve definitely doesn’t subvert that expectation.