Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Going Down

by Justin Pearson Rating:8 Release Date:2015-09-25

On 'Life Like This' from Kurt Vile's latest album, the opening lyrics act more or less as a summary of the lackadaisical style that runs through much of his music: "Wanna live a life like mine... to do so you gotta roll with the punches." It's more a statement of fact than a question. This laid-back ease has served Vile quite well on previous albums and continues to do so here. He can accurately be called a journalist of everyday moments and feelings, his records cumulatively adding up to something resembling a musical journey, a diary.

His songs drip like sap, unhurried yet potent enough to leave a sticky, sugary trail of residue behind. To the uninitiated he might come off as not too serious, but closer inspection reveals the depth of his seemingly devil-may-care lyrics and song structures to be more than just the ramblings of a wannabe troubadour with his guitar. Vile's the real deal, both musically and lyrically.

Self-doubt turns to self-confidence as he wrestles with identity on 'Pretty Pimpin': "I woke up this morning/ Didn't recognize the man in the mirror." Then later on in the narrative: "Who's this stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink/ But he was sporting all my clothes/ I gotta say pretty pimpin." Rebelliousness masks an inner struggle on the dusty, banjo-led 'I'm an Outlaw': "I'm an outlaw on the brink of self-implosion/ Alone in a crowd on the corner/ Goin nowhere slow."

In the press for this album Vile was quoted as saying this: "I wanted to get back into the habit of writing a sad song on my couch, with nobody waiting on me. I really wanted it to sound like it's on my couch -- not in a lo-fi way, just more unguarded and vulnerable." Nowhere is this more evident than on 'That's Life, tho (almost hate to say).' His ruminations expose the bitterness of life, but it doesn't feel truly sad. It's open and honest in a way that maintains a perfect balance, never becoming completely mired in the harshness of certain truths that the song highlights: "That's life tho/ In every brutal way/ Hate to point out the PAIN-fully obvious." His delivery of that last line works as a double meaning of sorts, simultaneously adding weight to the word while using it as a description - the thing itself (pain) and the adverb it becomes.

'All in a Daze Work' and  'Kidding Around' are quintessential Kurt Vile with their floating melodies that feel unplanned, organic. Both gorgeously picked, his finger slides figure prominently on the former giving it a warm immediacy. Its unexpected vocal turns and deliberate pacing add to the softness that blankets the song. The latter teases the listener with deep, yet playful lyrics that make one wonder what he's really getting at: "What's the meaning of this song/ What's this piece of wood/ I don't care it sounds so pretty/ Its changes so sublime/ But what's the meaning of that last line...I'm just kidding around over here." With a singer/songwriter as equally serious and tongue-in-cheek as Kurt Vile, you know both his poetry and humor are deliberate.

Taking into consideration the stream-of-consciousness life Vile seems in tune with, it takes more than a precursory listen to find the rhythms and nuances of b'lieve i'm goin down. So really, nothing's changed since 2013's Wakin on a Pretty Daze. The one exception might be that the songs are not as sprawling this time around. However, they are indeed open and there's still plenty of room to get lost in even after he's trimmed some of the fat in favor of a slightly leaner approach.

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